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Murray content to keep winning ugly as long as Lions achieve their end goal

NZ Maoris 10 Lions 32

by ruaidhri o'connor

There was nothing in the Lions' mission statement that said they had to beat the All Blacks at their own game. The best players from Britain and Ireland are playing a style of rugby that they're comfortable with; one that suits the conditions on a tour that has been largely blessed with good weather until match-day, when the heavens routinely open.

Warren Gatland has assembled an excellent, teak-tough tight five and a back-row that looks well-balanced, aggressive and skilful.

His half-backs, whether it's Johnny Sexton or Owen Farrell at No 10, are tactically adept and among the best strategic kickers in the game.

While there are issues beyond the No 12 shirt - where Ben Te'o has been excellent, but could still make way to accommodate the Sexton-Farrell combination - they haven't been exposed just yet.

Rather, their Saturday team has been a dominant forward force; brushing the Maori All Blacks aside in Rotorua thanks to a strong set-piece display that led to them out-scoring their hosts 22-0 in the second-half.

Their first try was a penalty try, their second a strong carry from Maro Itoje after more hard work up front and clever kicking.

Leigh Halfpenny kicked everything presented to him. It was simple, but hugely effective.

Whether it is enough at Eden Park on Saturday remains to be seen, but certainly the Lions will apply far more pressure to New Zealand than Samoa did when being beaten 78-0 on Friday.

This week represents a savage step up in class that few teams would be able to live with, but there is a quiet confidence within the Lions set-up.

And they are stubbornly refusing to play it any way other than their own.

"We converted pressure into points, which was really pleasing," Conor Murray said.

"It's winter down here, it is going to be difficult, so you adapt to the conditions and play to what you think your strengths are.

"I thought we did that quite effectively and the kicking part is one part of it.

"The maul and the scrum put us in positions to kick penalties to touch and gain territory, and it was a battle for that.

"Running from your own half probably wasn't on tonight because of the slippery conditions and the rain falling.

"Kicking is part of rugby. A lot of teams kick like that and getting the ball back is really important when you do exit your half.

"It's a weapon, and something we work really hard at, but the All Blacks do it too.

"They do it really effectively; Aaron Smith and TJ (Perenara) kick really well and the lads get after them.

"It's part of rugby. The focus seems to be on that, but the type of conditions we've had dictate that a little bit also, so we'd like to think that we're adaptable and it's going quite well."

NZ Maoris: J Lowe; N Milner-Skudder, M Proctor, C Ngati, R Ioane; D McKenzie (I West 67), T Kerr-Barlow (B Hall 74); K Hames (C Eves 61), A Dixon (capt) (H Elliott 70), B May (M Renata 76); J Wheeler (L Price 70), T Franklin; A Ioane, E Dixon (K Pryor 72), L Messam.

British and Irish Lions: S L Halfpenny; A Watson, J Davies, B Te'o, G North (E Daly 63); J Sexton (D Biggar 67), C Murray (G Laidlaw 67); M Vunipola (J McGrath 59), J George (K Owens 65), T Furlong (K Sinckler 65); M Itoje, G Kruis (I Henderson 59); P O'Mahony (capt) (S Warburton 6), S O'Brien, T Faletau.

Referee: J Peyper (South Africa)

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