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Lions find attacking spark against Chiefs to build momentum for first Test

Warren Gatland’s midweekers kept the confidence flowing before the first All Blacks clash.

Chiefs 6

Lions 34

Murray Kinsella reports from FMG Stadium Waikato

KIWI TEAMS ARE better known for scoring tries on kick return and counter-attacking from deep in their own 22, but the Lions showed that local habits are rubbing off on them as their midweek side kept the momentum rolling ahead of the first Test.

Jack Nowell celebrates scoring their third try with Justin Tipuric, Iain Henderson, Rory Best and Dan Cole Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The vast majority of this matchday 23 will not be involved against the All Blacks in Auckland on Saturday, but they showed their quality against a completely mismatched Chiefs outfit shorn of their own Test players.

While Lions boss Warren Gatland would have had his mind largely made up with regards to his Test 23 before this tie, a number of players gave him a late nudge in Hamilton.

Right wing Jack Nowell found his feet on this tour with two tries – Jared Payne scored too, while the maul delivered a penalty try – although it was left wing Elliot Daly and fullback Liam Williams who have perhaps put even more pressure on George North for the weekend.

Courtney Lawes was outstanding in the second row once again, while Iain Henderson delivered another superb display, throwing a lovely left-handed pass to Nowell for his second try, a score that saw the Lions’ backs catch, pass and offload thrillingly.

CJ Stander, extremely fired-up and vocal, showed his energy at number eight and remains a candidate for the Test bench, while Dan Biggar at out-half had some delightful touches.

Liam Williams makes a break Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Collectively, the Lions showed that their upward curve on this tour is continuing as the midweekers won for the first time. It was a wholly convincing victory and one that saw their attacking game spark to create a couple of enjoyable scores.

The Lions had led 13-6 at the break despite losing loosehead Joe Marler to a yellow card for silly hit off the ball, while the Chiefs could have complained that Biggar didn’t also go closer to half time for a high hit on Tom Sanders.

Dave Rennie’s side lost a player to the bin themselves in the second half, Mitch Brown marching off after the Lions pack had rumbled over the tryline at maul time to send referee Jerome Garces under the posts for their penalty try.

While the Test team have been preparing for Saturday at Eden Park in the background in recent days, a comprehensive win like this one will give the entire squad a lift and it only adds to the sense that the Lions are going to give the Test series a good rattle.

Intriguingly, we saw Garces and his team of match officials watching like hawks for blocking offences by the Chiefs, after Gatland had challenged them to do so ahead of the Test series.

The Lions’ performance didn’t tell us a huge amount about how they will perform at the weekend, but they will have grown in confidence from the sweeping nature of three of the tries in particular.

Joe Marler after being sin-binned Source: Photosport/Bruce Lim/INPHO

With Lawes starting strongly with a big lineout steal and Justin Tipuric earning a choke tackle turnover, the Lions built through 20 phases to drag an offside penalty out of the Chiefs’ Mitch Brown, which Biggar slotted in the 10th minute.

The Kiwi side struck back, however, as Toni Pulu made a bust out on the left that saw him injured and stretchered off, but not before Marler’s silly yellow card.

Allan Dell – one of the infamous six call-ups over the weekend – entered the fray temporarily and with Jared Payne scrummaging behind him, helped the Lions win a powerful scrum penalty.

Biggar extended the Lions’ lead with Brown failed to roll away, but Chiefs captain Stephen Donald notched their opening points off the tee when Lawes went off his feet jackaling for a turnover.

The Lions’ first try finally arrived close to the half-hour mark as fullback Liam Williams intelligently allowed Biggar’s pass to drift across his body and beat a defender in the act, freeing Nowell for a scamper up the right touchline.

Jack Nowell celebrates scoring their first try with Greig Laidlaw Jack Nowell scored the Lions' first-half try. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The Lions played back into midfield over three phases deep in the Chiefs 22, where Biggar’s footwork saw him beat Sigfried Fisiihoi, drawing a despairing high tackle, and with advantage playing the busy Nowell picked and dove over for a try Biggar converted.

The Lions’ out-half should probably have gone to the bin for his hit on Sanders, but the Chiefs did at least finish the half with another three points from Donald after Elliot Daly strayed offside.

The Super Rugby side were noticeably looser after the break – though Johnny Fa’auli’s hit on Robbie Henshaw showed what they were capable of – and the Lions began to assert control.

Their maul proved to be a weapon yet again on this tour as they thundered towards the Chiefs’ tryline in the 54th minute, Henderson making a drive for the line but Garces beat him to the punch and awarded the penalty try.

After a rather harsh penalty against Stander for a strip in contact, the Chiefs then overthrew at a lineout in the Lions’ 22 and Tipuric brilliantly flicked the ball off the deck, with Jared Payne and Liam Williams fixing defenders to free Daly down the left.

Jared Payne scores their fourth try Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

He burst beyond one defender and then flung a beautiful pass back inside to Payne, who was scragged from behind but managed to offload to Henshaw. The Ireland centre was grounded but James Haskell hammered the ruck and the Lions recycled quickly for Henderson to find Nowell on the charge, the Exeter wing dancing past the last defender for a sublime try.

Next came a superb kick return try as the Chiefs were punished for chipping out of their 22, Nowell offloading to Liam Williams, who scorched through the disjoined defence and nearly got around the last man, before rewarding Payne for running a good support line.

Interestingly, Gatland opted against sending in the remainder of his six controversial call-ups off the bench, but it was a fine evening all round for the Lions.

Chiefs scorers:

Penalties: Stephen Donald [2 from 2]

Lions scorers:

Tries: Jack Nowell [2], Penalty try, Jared Payne

Conversions: Dan Biggar [3 from 4]

Penalties: Dan Biggar [2 from 2]

CHIEFS: Shaun Stevenson; Toni Pulu (Chase Tiatia ’13), Tim Nanai-Williams, Johnny Faauli, Solomon Alaimalo (Luteru Laulala ’67); Stephen Donald, Finlay Christie (Jonathan Taumateine ’58); Siegfried Fisi’ihoi (Aidan Ross ’65), Liam Polwart (Hika Elliot ’60), Nepo Laulala (Atu Moli ’65); Dominic Bird, Michael Allardice (Liam Messam ’55); Mitch Brown (yellow card ’55) (Mitchell Karpik ’65), Lachlan Boshier, Tom Sanders.

LIONS: Liam Williams; Jack Nowell (Tommy Seymour ’60), Jared Payne (HIA – Elliot Daly ’76), Robbie Henshaw, Elliot Daly; Dan Biggar, Greig Laidlaw; Joe Marler (yellow card ’13 to ’23), Rory Best (captain), Dan Cole; Iain Henderson, Courtney Lawes (HIA – Alun Wyn Jones ’53 to ’58); James Haskell (Allan Dell ’15 to ’23), Justin Tipuric, CJ Stander.

Replacements not used: Kristian Dacey, Tomas Francis, Cory Hill, Gareth Davies, Finn Russell.

Referee: Jerome Garces [FFR].

Attendance: 29,974.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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