Lions tamed once again as long-range penalty falls short
Highlanders 23 Lions 22
A second defeat for the British and Irish Lions in six days has highlighted a gulf between their first and second sides after the Highlanders clinched a thrilling 23-22 victory yesterday.
Warren Gatland's men finally found ways to net tries as Jonathan Joseph, Tommy Seymour and Sam Warburton all crossed, but they could not rid themselves of the Otago side on the scoreboard and in the end, the teams were split by a single point and a difference of all of two metres, such was the length that Elliot Daly's late penalty missed by.
Given the Lions side that restricted the Crusaders to just three points in Saturday's 12-3 victory were ferocious in defence, the two tries conceded is beginning to show why few of the players on show here will feature in the Test side next week.
It was one of the Highlanders' All Blacks that was released for this match, fly-half Lima Sopoaga, who opened the scoring with a penalty in the fifth minute when Courtney Lawes was caught offside.
The Lions would soon draw level, but only after they twice thought they had scored when firstly Seymour went for the line and then Rhys Webb tried to jump the ruck to touch down.
Referee Angus Gardner asked his television match official, Marius Jonker, to check both groundings, and while Seymour's proved inconclusive, Webb had clearly lost control.
The Lions had a penalty advantage regardless and Dan Biggar levelled the scores.
The Highlanders were building pressure, and it told. It came from a Lions error, when a stolen lineout resulted in Webb knocking forward.
Blindside flanker Gareth Evans went quickly, and when Sopoaga whipped the ball left to Waisake Naholo, he touched down. Sopoaga converted.
Gatland will have been pleased with the response as the Lions scored their third try of the tour just four minutes later. After Robbie Henshaw won a penalty for holding on, the Lions kicked to touch and when they spread left, centre Jonathan Joseph straightened to crash over, with Biggar adding the extras.
The Lions then exploded out of the blocks after half-time. When Sopoage attempted a cross-field kick that landed on their own 10m line, a charging Seymour caught the ball and went the distance to score, though Biggar missed the conversion. It would prove costly.
Sopoaga then made it a two-point game, before Lions captain Sam Warburton smartly collected the ball from the base of the ruck about seven metres out and extended his arms to touch down, giving Biggar an easy conversion to make it 22-13 in the Lions' favour.
But back came the Highlanders, and a perfect driving maul sent Liam Coltman over.
Marty Banks' conversion reduced the lead to two points, and after Gatland made the risky decision to remove Biggar for Owen Farrell as the Welshman lined up a kick at goal, he was made to rue it when the ball drifted wide left. The Highlanders would go on to punish the Kiwi coach, as Banks split the uprights to put them ahead with six minutes left on the clock.
The Lions would have one final chance to snatch it when they were awarded a penalty in their own half, but Daly's huge effort fell two metres short.
Highlanders: ,Buckman, Naholo, Fekitoa, Walden, Li, Sopoaga, Hammington, Lienert-Brown, Coltman, Tokolahi, Ainley, Hemopo, Evans, Hunt, Whitelock. Replacements: Pleasants-Tate, Seiuli, Halanukonuka, Dickson, Lentjes, Renton, Banks, Osborne. Scorers, Tries: Naholo, Coltman; Cons: Sopoaga, Banks; Penalties: Sopoaga (2), Banks.
Lions: Payne, Nowell, Joseph, Henshaw, Seymour, Biggar, Webb, Marler, Best, Sinckler, Lawes, Henderson, Haskell, Warburton, Stander. Replacements: Owens, McGrath, Cole, Jones, Tipuric, Laidlaw, Farrell, Daly. Scorers, Tries: Joseph, Seymour, Warburton; Cons: Dan Biggar (2); Pen: Biggar.
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)