The British and Irish Lions slumped to a 22-16 defeat against the Auckland Blues on Wednesday after conceding a spectacular late try to replacement fly-half Ihaia West.
The tourists were much improved on their lacklustre opening display against the Provincial Barbarians but again struggled with the speed of the New Zealanders’ game.
Coach Warren Gatland’s forwards were dominant but the Lions backs were outplayed by the Blues, the worst performing of New Zealand’s five Super Rugby teams this season.
The Blues scored three tries to one with full-back Leigh Halfpenny’s boot keeping the Lions in the match with three penalties and a conversion.
The tour will only get more difficult for Gatland’s men, who face the table-topping, undefeated Canterbury Crusaders in Christchurch on Saturday.
National coach Steve Hansen was watching from the stands and saw two-time World Cup winner Sonny Bill Williams score a try and emphatically lay claim for a return to the All Blacks squad.
Blues winger Rieko Ioane also continued to press his case for selection for the three-Test series against the Lions with his seventh try in six matches.
Prior to kick-off, there was a minute’s silence to honour victims of the London terror attacks, then the Blues performed a haka specially commissioned for the occasion.
The Lions came out of the blocks hard, claiming 73 percent of territory and 63 percent of possession in the opening 20 minutes.
They created early chances, with Jared Payne pouncing on a loose ball but putting too much power on his kick and failing to catch it in the in-goal area.
Blues fly-half Stephen Perofeta then set up the opening try of the match, first turning the Lions defence with a cross-field kick then sending a long-range pass to put Ioane through on the wing.
Perofeta followed up moments later with a try-saving tackle on Payne at the other end of the field, forcing him into touch before he could ground in the corner.
The tourists continued to attack and were rewarded when Munster’s CJ Stander powered his way over from a lineout drive after some dominant play from the Lions forwards.
Halfpenny added a conversion and a penalty to put the Lions ahead 10-5 before Williams sensationally stole the lead back the back right on half-time.
Perofeta’s penalty goal attempt struck the post and Williams was quickest to react as Lions winger Jack Nowell knocked the ball behind the tryline under pressure.
The former rugby league international Williams sped between two defenders to get a hand on the ball and sneak the try under the posts, converted by Perofeta, that sent the Blues into the break 12-10 ahead.
Nowell made amends shortly after the restart when he launched a desperate tackle that denied Ioane a second try in the corner.
The Blues began to gain momentum and stretch the Lions’ defence, with the tourists’ task made more difficult when replacement centre Liam Williams was sinbinned for dangerous play.
But the Lions rallied and patiently worked the ball through the centre of the park, drawing two penalties to edge back into the lead at 16-15.
But Williams produced another magic moment to seize it back with six minutes remaining, breaking the line and offloading to West, whose lightning pace took him past four defenders and under the posts.
West kicked the conversion himself to make it 22-16 and despite the Lions throwing everything into attack during the final minutes they could not find a breakthrough.
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