Belfast Telegraph

Crusaders 3-12 British and Irish Lions: Owen Farrell kicks his team to victory to get tour of New Zealand back on track

By Jack de Menezes at AMI Stadium

The British and Irish Lions hit got back to winning ways with a gutsy victory over the previously unbeaten Crusaders thanks to the reliable goalkicking of Owen Farrell, and ensured that any talk of an ill-fated tour of New Zealand can be put to bed by triumphing in what looks to be their toughest warm-up match of the schedule.

They will still need to improve significantly to beat the All Blacks, but this was a much-improved performance from a very strong Lions side that not only beat the Super Rugby league leaders, but did so despite two early injury blows that forced Warren Gatland into a reshuffle.

When Iain Henderson failed to take the opening kick-off of the tour, you got the idea that it wasn’t going to end well for the Lions. This time around, it was the Crusaders who weren’t quite at their best from the off as Luke Romano flapped at the ball off both kick-offs he tried to claim.

The result was nearly a first-minute try for tourists. Spreading the ball from left to right, Jonathan Davies tried to find an unmarked George North outside him, only for Richie Mo’unga to intercept the ball as the last man in the line. The first 15 minutes would follow suit, with both teams making errors in tricky conditions with the ball proving slippery and a number of players losing their feet beneath them.

The first points came from the boot of Owen Farrell in the 13th minute, though can easily be attributed to the Lions flanker Peter O’Mahony, with the Irishman plucking the ball out of the air to steal a Crusaders lineout. As the Lions attacked centrally, the Crusaders were caught by referee Mathieu Raynal slowing the ball down and Farrell took the chance to put the Lions ahead. Farrell would double the lead four minutes later when loosehead prop Joe Moody fell to his knees in the scrum.

In the 20th minute, the Lions worked themselves another good chance to score, but it would be a moment to forget for Stuart Hogg – and one that he probably can’t remember. The full-back endured an error-strewn display in against the Provincial Barbarians, and he made the wrong decision this time not to pass out wide to Liam Williams with the overlap available. The ball came loose in the next phase when George Kruis knocked on, and Hogg was soon backtracking to collect Mo’unga’s clearance kick. The Scot caught the ball, turned and kicked up-field, only to be knocked out as he chased by the raised arm of teammate Conor Murray, and he left the field bloodied with Anthony Watson on at full-back.

The Crusaders would hit back immediately after a good break by the No 8, Jordan Taufua, between Davies and North, leading to the wing killing the ball and likely preventing a try in the process, though fly-half Mo’unga duly took the three points on offer.

Having already lost Hogg, the Lions were hit by a second blow when Davies suffered a heavy knock to the head in a collision with centre David Havili as he came onto a crash ball from Farrell. The centre needed a moment of treatment, before being ordered from the field for a Head Injury Assessment short of the half hour mark. He would not return, meaning Johnny Sexton came on and Farrell moved to centre.

The next Lions attack again saw them fail to find a way across the line, this time with a driving maul from an attacking lineout, but with the Crusaders offside Farrell was given a simple penalty effort in front of the posts to make it 9-3.

Minutes later, the Crusaders nearly stunned the Lions, and it took an almighty effort from Sean O’Brien to chase Mo’unga after he capitalised on a Farrell knock-on. The flanker chased the stand-off to the Lions 22, by which time the covering defence was able to get back and help him out to prevent the try, and despite the Lions being well offside, two kicks to the corner rather than the posts failed to pay off as they knocked the ball forwards in the second lineout.

The Lions would also have one last chance before the break when Farrell kicked an excellent touch-finder from halfway to the 5m line, though they could not muster an attempt to get over the line., Instead, it was a penalty effort shortly after half-time that presented the Lions with their next scoring opportunity when Taufua faiuled to release a tackle, but Farrell’s high effort appeared to go directly over the right upright. The two touchjudges looked at each other, but Raynal was happy not to check the kick and the points were not given, despite O’Brien’s protestations.

There we chances for both teams as the second half wore on, North having to race back to pressure Crusaders wing George bridge as he chased a Jack Goodhue chip to the corner, while the Lions butchered a great chance to score when Watson broke free on the left, only to panic in passing early to Sexton, whose pass in-field to replacement CJ Stander was dropped.

The Lions would extend their lead though, and it again stemmed from an attack on the left as Sexton surged through a gap in the centres. He offloaded to Te’o who fed Williams, and the wing made his way into the 22 before the Crusaders were caught offside, giving Farrell another easy three points in front of the posts to complete the scoring, and ensure that the Lions are back on course ahead of Tuesday’s clash with the Otago Highlanders.

Teams

Crusaders: Israel Dagg; Seta Tamanivalu; Jack Goodhue, David Havili, George Bridge (Tim Bateman, 66); Richie Mo’unga (Mitchell Hunt, 74), Bryn Hall (Mitchell Drummond, 62); Joe Moody (Wyatt Crockett, 51), Codie Taylor (Ben Funnell, 51), Owen Franks (Mike Alaalatoa, 51); Luke Romano (Quinten Strange, (56), Sam Whitelock; Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, Matt Todd (Jed Brown, 62); Jordan Taufua.

British and Irish Lions: Stuart Hogg (Anthony Watson, 20); George North, Jonathan Davies (Jonathan Sexton, 29), Ben Te’o, Liam Williams; Owen Farrell, Conor Murray; Mako Vunipola (Jack McGrath, 62), Jamie George (Ken Owens, 66), Tadhg Furlong (Dan Cole, 66); Alun Wyn Jones, George Kruis (Maro Itoje, 62); Peter O’Mahony, Sean O’Brien (CJ Stander 56), Taulupe Faletau.

Replacements not used: Rhys Webb

Referee: Mathieu Raynal

Independent News Service

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