The British and Irish Lions warned they’re “not here for second place” as they set up this weekend’s first Test against the All Blacks with a thumping 34-6 win over the Waikato Chiefs on Tuesday.
Jack Nowell’s sparkling try double was the highlight as the Lions scored four tries and kept the Chiefs from crossing the line, further building momentum as the opening Test looms on Saturday.
While the team to play the All Blacks in Auckland is probably already settled, plenty of the Lions’ second-stringers put their hands up to feature later in the Test series.
“I think we’ve a good squad. So do the All Blacks but we feel we need to keep improving, that’s what we’ve been doing over the last couple of weeks,” said Lions captain Rory Best.
“We’re not here for second place. It’ll be a tough contest but we’re looking forward to it.”
The result followed Saturday’s convincing win over the Maori All Blacks and ended a sequence of mid-week defeats for the Lions, who earlier lost to the Auckland Blues and Otago Highlanders.
They starved the Chiefs of attacking opportunities and Nowell’s second try showed they can also play with flair, as they took the ball the length of the field and through 10 pairs of hands before the Englishman swerved past two defenders to finish.
“I thought they were excellent, full credit to them — they suffocated us and then scored some great tries,” said Chiefs skipper Stephen Donald.
“Disappointing in front of a great crowd, we just couldn’t get going. But we’ve got no complaints, they were just too good.”
It was a potential banana-skin for Lions coach Warren Gatland in his home town of Hamilton, which has proved a graveyard for international teams in the past.
Gatland himself was a hooker for Waikato when they humbled the Lions 38-10 in 1993 and he even scored a try against the team he now coaches.
He was on the other side of the scoreline last year when the Chiefs thrashed his Wales side 40-7 in a tour match.
After the Chiefs’ haka in front of the sell-out 30,000 crowd, the Lions made a promising start in clear conditions, going on the attack after Courtney Lawes stole a Chiefs lineout ball.
But the failure to convert chances that has dogged the tour returned as they worked it through 20 phases, only to fail when Liam Williams knocked on.
Poor discipline could have also cost them when Harlequins prop Joe Marler was sin-binned for a late tackle, but his replacement Alan Dell excelled.
Winger Nowell dived a pile of bodies to score the first try of the match in the 25th minute after some eye-catching build-up play from Williams and Dan Biggar.
The tourists enjoyed 58 percent of possession and 63 percent of territory in the first half, although a penalty from Chiefs’ skipper Donald narrowed their lead to 13-6 going into the break.
The Lions worked the ball through 16 phases after the restart but again failed to score and they were lucky not to concede as the Chiefs showed some quicksilver passing during their rare periods of possession.
But Lions’ pressure paid off when they were awarded a penalty try after the Chiefs collapsed their maul for the third time.
Chiefs heads dropped after Nowell’s slickly taken second try, and Jared Payne soon added another when Williams caught the defence napping with a quick restart to set him up and confirm the big win.
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