The British and Irish Lions stayed in the South Island for what was set to be a very hotly contested match against the Highlanders. They sit fourth in the New Zealand conference but with a record of 10 wins and 4 losses, they still look formidable. The Lions came into the match off the back of a tremendous performance against the Crusaders but it was a much less star studded team to the one from last time around.
All of the games on tour have started with a maori ritual and this one was no different except it came in a different form. Luke Whitelock handed Sam Warburton a commemorative sword that links back to the Highlanders scottish routes.
The Highlanders got off to a searing start and snatched a penalty from the boot of Lima Sopoaga, but Dan Biggar responded and the score was 3-3 until the Highlanders began to really show what they were really get at; handling. They stretched the Lions out from right to left and managed to get within a few metres of the line. The ball was then given to Waisake Naholo and when Dan Biggar flew out of the line, it was a stroll in for the Kiwi.
But 4 minutes later, the Lions hauled themselves back into the match when Dan Biggar threw a nice dummy, delayed the pass well and fed Jonathan Joseph. The English centre had a lot of work to do but with numbers outside of him, he threw a dummy and crashed over the whitewash! Biggar converted and the score was all square.
HALF TIME HIGHLANDERS 10 – 10 BRITISH AND IRISH LIONS
Like all New Zealand sides, the Highlanders are not afraid the play around with the ball but as soon as Lima Sopoaga cross kicked the ball there was danger. Tommy Seymour plucked the ball out of the sky and scampered away just 2 minutes into the second half! Biggar’s conversion flew wide and Sopoaga smashed over a penalty to pull the game back to 15-13 still in the Lions favour.
Sam Warburton came into this match needing to prove himself as despite him being tour captain, his place in the test team still not certain. He hadn’t been on superb form but proved his worth with a 5 pointer. The flanker caught the Landers unaware with a quick pick up and he grounded the ball under the sticks!
The tourists had taken a very commanding lead but nothing was ever certain and out of nothing, the game was turned on it’s head. The British and Irish Lions pride themselves in the set piece but the Highlanders shoved them back behind their own line. The Kiwi side bulldozed the Lions behind their own line and Liam Coltman grounded the ball for the try. Marty Banks converted and suddenly, the game was back in the balance.
Marty Banks had come on a been a super sub and was presented with a chance to potentially win the match. The fly half/fullback stepped up and struck the conversion to an inch perfect standard and the ball flew straight between the posts! The Highlanders were on course for a famous victory!
The Landers seemed home and dry until the clock struck 77 minutes and they conceded a penalty. It was 57 metres out from the line but when Elliot Daly is on the pitch, anything is possible. The English utility back gave the ball an almighty thump but it dropped just short and the Highlanders survived!
Owen Farrell has been crucial to the Lions victories on tour (probably the best player) and when the Lions were presented with one final chance in the 80th minutes, he was central to the move. He played a marvellous flat pass to Jonathan Joseph but the centre spilt the ball forwards and the game was done. The Lions suffered a second midweek defeat in their second midweek game.
FULL TIME HIGHLANDERS 23 – 22 BRITISH AND IRISH LIONS