The British & Irish Lions faltered in the final quarter as the Hurricanes snapped back for a 31-all draw and a share of the spoils in an absorbing seven-try contest at Westpac Stadium.
BRITISH & IRISH TOUR – MATCH 8: Tuesday, June 27
HURRICANES 31 BRITISH & IRISH LIONS 31, Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Scorers: Hurricanes: Tries: Callum Gibbins, Ngani Laumape, Wes Goosen, Vaea Fifita; Cons: Jordie Barrett 4; Pen: Jordie Barrett
British & Irish Lions: Tries: Tommy Seymour 2, George North; Cons: Dan Biggar 2; Pens: Dan Biggar 4
HT: Hurricanes 7 British & Irish Lions 23
Ireland’s Iain Henderson was in outstanding form and really pressed his Test claims, but it was his 66th-minute yellow card which proved particularly costly as the Lions lost their grip on a 14-point lead. Converted tries from Wes Goosen and Vaea Fifita drew the Hurricanes before Dan Biggar, who kicked 16 points, was short with a last-minute drop goal attempt from 40-plus metres.
Two opportunist tries from Tommy Seymour (18 minutes) and George North (36) – the first from a Greig Laidlaw interception and the second one courtesy of Henderson’s snappy assist – propelled the Lions into a 23-7 half-time lead, with Biggar also in unerring place-kicking form.
The Welsh out-half landed both conversions and kicked three penalties to punish some poor discipline from the defending Super Rugby champions. The hosts, who were missing some of their bigger names, conceded seven penalties by the interval and missed 11 tackles. A try from flanker Callum Gibbins did, at least, get them off the mark.
A pectoral injury unfortunately ended Robbie Henshaw’s night prematurely – his Ireland colleague Jared Payne was pulled from the matchday 23 before kick-off due to a headache – and the Hurricanes shot out of the traps in the second period with a Ngani Laumape try and a Jordi Barrett penalty. However, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi’s sin-binning for a high tackle prompted a scoring spurt from the tourists as Biggar booted his fourth penalty and Scottish winger Seymour completed his brace of tries.
Crucially, Henderson’s yellow for a dangerous challenge on Barrett – he lifted him above the horizontal at a ruck and referee Romain Poite and TMO George Ayoub agreed that the Hurricanes full-back landed on his shoulder rather than his back – changed the course of the game. Chris Boyd’s men conjured up two more tries but neither side could muster the winning score in a tense finale.
Play was cramped either side of halfway in the opening minutes, England’s Jack Nowell seeing a lot of ball near the left touchline and Barrett, Laidlaw and Lions captain Rory Best all guilty of knocking on. A scrum penalty against Ben May, who drove in at an angle, launched the Lions forward.
After some decent attacking off a Best lineout in the 22, Biggar slotted a straightforward penalty through the posts for 3-0. Then, the Hurricanes’ fourth penalty inside 12-and-a-half minutes – this time their centres were caught offside – kept the Lions on the front foot.
Although the Hurricanes backs began to threaten towards the end of the first quarter, the Lions’ rush defence led to an interception and a thrilling break downfield by Laidlaw. He was tackled past the hosts’ 10-metre line but offloaded brilliantly off the deck for his Scotland team-mate Seymour to gallop away and in under the posts for a seven-pointer.
A muscular ruck poach by Best, who had the captaincy for the second time on tour, sent the Lions back into Hurricanes’ territory and with a further penalty coming their way, a terrific long range kick by Biggar put 13 points between the sides. Leigh Halfpenny’s introduction for the injured Henshaw saw North move to centre.
The Lions defence was split open by Otere Black’s inviting 23rd-minute offload, Ngani Laumape breaking up into the 22 to spark a prolonged spell of attacking. The Hurricanes forward drove well and flanker Gibbins – a future team-mate of Seymour’s at Glasgow Warriors – rumbled over from a few metres out, with referee Poite spotting the grounding. Barrett converted for 13-7.
However, a silly penalty from prop May, who was whistled up for obstructing Laidlaw, allowed Biggar to hit back immediately for the Lions off the tee. Slick hands had Nowell threatening on the right wing before Halfpenny competed well for Biggar’s booming garryowen, Henderson gobbling up the scraps and his lovely little offload sent North charging over from just outside the 22 with Biggar converting.
That concession prompted a strong finish to the first half from the Hurricanes, Julian Savea increasing his threat out wide with James Haskell penalised twice in quick succession. A Henderson turnover, combined with some dogged defending at a couple of close-in mauls, denied the Kiwis in the dying minutes.
Nonetheless, the Lions leaked a second try within a minute of the restart. Vince Uso’s well-executed inside pass sent Savea through a gap and he fed centre Laumape who had the strength to crash over in the right corner past Biggar. The latter went off for a head injury assessment as Barrett swung over a peach of a conversion.
The scoreline stayed at 23-14 after Barrett was narrowly wide with a monster penalty effort. Under increasing pressure in defence, North was pinged for offside and Barrett mopped up with the three points from straight in front, cutting the gap to six points with half-an-hour remaining.
Henderson led the Lions’ response, charging down a kick and gathering the loose ball in the hosts’ 22. A series of quick-fire offences, including an offside and a high tackle by Tahuriorangi, saw the Hurricanes scrum half binned and Biggar’s successful kick made it 26-17.
TMO Ayoub ruled that Henderson was held up short in a subsequent attack which was ignited by a initial bullocking run from the Ulsterman. CJ Stander was beginning to punch holes with his carries, and following the resulting scrum, Biggar’s looping pass and good hands from Nowell and Halfpenny teed up Seymour to go over wide on the right.
North missed out on his own second try, catching Jonathan Joseph’s kick through but a foot in touch was spotted by TMO Ayoub. The Australian was centre stage again a few minutes later, influencing Poite into giving Henderson a yellow card after his clear-out of Barrett at a ruck. It turned out to be a huge blow for the Lions.
With the momentum swinging back to the Canes, a long pass from Barrett creating replacement Goosen’s try wide on the right. Barrett’s textbook conversion made it a seven-point game, and the Lions’ lead was completed erased when a bout of strong carrying from the home forwards ended with flanker Fifita scoring under the posts in the 71st minute.
It was all hands to the pump for the Lions as they had to absorb further pressure. Head coach Warren Gatland elected to use only George Kruis as his one full replacement in the second half, but his Best-led troops fronted up manfully in defence and broke back into Canes’ territory before Biggar’s drop goal effort fell short of the target.
TIME LINE: 10 minutes – B&I Lions penalty: Dan Biggar – 0-3; 18 mins – B&I Lions try: Tommy Seymour – 0-8; conversion: Dan Biggar – 0-10; 22 mins – B&I Lions penalty: Dan Biggar – 0-13; 27 mins – B&I Lions try: Callum Gibbins – 5-13; conversion: Jordie Barrett – 7-13; 31 mins – B&I Lions penalty: Dan Biggar – 7-16; 36 mins – B&I Lions try: George North – 7-21; conversion: Dan Biggar – 7-23; Half-time – Hurricanes 7 B&I Lions 23; 41 mins – Hurricanes try: Ngani Laumape – 12-23; conversion: Jordie Barrett – 14-23; 46 mins – Hurricanes penalty: missed by Jordie Barrett – 14-23; 50 mins – Hurricanes penalty: Jordie Barrett – 17-23; 51 mins – Hurricanes yellow card: Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi; 52 mins – B&I Lions penalty: Dan Biggar – 17-26; 55 mins – B&I Lions try: Tommy Seymour – 17-31; conversion: missed by Dan Biggar – 17-31; 66 mins – B&I Lions yellow card: Iain Henderson; 68 mins – Hurricanes try: Wes Goosen – 22-31; conversion: Jordie Barrett – 24-31; 71 mins – Hurricanes try: Vaea Fifita – 29-31; conversion: Jordie Barrett – 31-31; Full-time – Hurricanes 31 B&I Lions 31
HURRICANES: Jordie Barrett; Nehe Milner-Skudder, Vince Aso, Ngani Laumape, Julian Savea; Otere Black, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi; Ben May, Ricky Riccitelli, Jeffrey To’omaga-Allen, Mark Abbott, Sam Lousi, Vaea Fifita, Callum Gibbins, Brad Shields (capt).
Replacements used: Chris Eves for May, Reed Prinsep for Shields (both 56 mins), Leni Apisai for Riccitelli, Wes Goosen for Black (both 62), Kemura Hauiti-Parapara for Tahuriorangi, Cory Jane for Savea (both 69). Not used: Mike Kainga, James Blackwell.
BRITISH & IRISH LIONS: Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs/England); Tommy Seymour (Glasgow Warriors/Scotland), Jonathan Joseph (Bath/England), Robbie Henshaw (Leinster/Ireland), George North (Northampton Saints/Wales); Dan Biggar (Ospreys/Wales), Greig Laidlaw (Gloucester/Scotland); Joe Marler (Harlequins/England), Rory Best (Ulster/Ireland) (capt), Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers/England), Iain Henderson (Ulster/Ireland), Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints/England), James Haskell (Wasps/England), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys/Wales), CJ Stander (Munster/Ireland).
Replacements used: Leigh Halfpenny (Toulon/Wales) for Henshaw (19 mins), Finn Russell (Glasgow Warriors/Scotland) for Biggar (43-48, temp sub), George Kruis (Saracens/England) for Lawes (54). Not used: Kristian Dacey (Cardiff Blues/Wales), Allan Dell (Edinburgh/Scotland), Tomas Francis (Exeter Chiefs/Wales), Cory Hill (Newport Gwent Dragons/Wales), Gareth Davies (Scarlets/Wales).
Referee: Romain Poite (France)