Belfast Telegraph

Sonny magic proves decisive as Blues enter Kiwi folkore

Blues 22 Lions 16

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

If the Lions are to have a hope of completing their impossible mission later this month then they will have to learn to create something out of nothing.

As they left Eden Park yesterday morning they spoke of their need to tighten up discipline, to stop offering their opponents entry points into games, but the real difference between these two teams was the ability to make something happen.

It was Steven Luatua's instinctive knowledge that Maro Itoje had opened the door for him. He rode Courtney Lawes' tackle and fed Sonny Bill Williams, who didn't need asking twice.

The double World Cup winner raced through the gap, and even as he took Liam Williams' thundering tackle there was only one thing on his mind as his head swivelled and he laid eyes on Ihiaia West.

The replacement out-half knew his team-mate would find him and committed fully to the run, taking Sonny Bill's off-load in his stride and scorching Johnny Sexton and Dan Biggar to score what would prove to be the winning try.

The Lions will reflect on the two chances they let pass them by in the closing moments, but for all of their admirable efforts they didn't possess the class to unlock a defence the way the Blues did in the 75th minute.

It was a try worthy of winning any game and it will enter local folklore, as beating the Lions is something to be cherished.

The key for the Lions is ensuring they don't become the scalp du jour here. The massive steps up keep coming and, while their defence needs improving, their attack has produced just two tries.

They started well at Eden Park, hogging the ball for large periods, but they were undone by a nice piece of diversion from prop Charlie Faumuina and the pace of the brilliant Rieko Ioane on the outside.

CJ Stander's maul try and kicks from Leigh Halfpenny put them back in control, but a stroke of luck on the cusp of half-time allowed Sonny Bill Williams to score a game-changing try.

The Lions kicked their way back into a winning position, but the brilliant double-off-load try won the day.

It might have been rescued but for a penalty concession and a stray lineout, but it was a reminder that in these parts you have to be able to score if you're going to win games.

"It's something that's really prevalent around our country and in our team. We want to keep the ball alive and get that second-phase play going and get in behind teams," said Blues coach Tana Umaga.

"If you can't stop that, it's very, very difficult when you're going backwards all the time.

"We keep backing ourselves to play our game. And we get the rewards for it."

Learning from this defeat and the dangers of Super Rugby sides is a priority for the Lions.

"You can't switch off for one second against these teams, if you do they hurt you," Halfpenny said. "They play to the full 80 minutes and we have to be fully focused.

"We kept to our structures that we've been working on, there's still improvement to go there.

"We feel it was an improved performance from the last game but it's disappointing to lose, but we've got to pick ourselves up quickly."

Blues: Collins, Duffie, Moala, Williams, R Ioane, Perofeta, Pulu; Tu'ungafasi, Parsons, Faumuina, Cowley-Tuioti, Scrafton, A Ioane, Gibson, Luatua. Replacements: Faiva, Hodgman, Mafileo, Tupou, Pryor, Nock, West, Faiane.

Scorers: Tries: R Ioane, Williams, West; Cons: Perofeta, West; Pen: West

British & Irish Lions: Halfpenny, Nowell, Payne, Henshaw, Daly, Biggar, Webb; McGrath, Owens, Cole, Itoje, Lawes, Haskell, Tipuric, Stander. Replacements: Best, Marler, Sinckler, Henderson, O'Mahony, Laidlaw, Sexton, Williams.

Scorers: Try: Stander; Con: Halfpenny; Pens: Halfpenny (3)

Referee: Pascal Gauzere (France)

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