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Gatland unwilling to use bench as Lions surrender winning position in Wellington

The Hurricanes mounted a second-half comeback at the Cake Tin.

Hurricanes 31

Lions 31

Murray Kinsella reports from Westpac Stadium

THOUGH THE LIONS scored some classy tries and the likes of Courtney Lawes and Iain Henderson gave themselves a good shot of making the Test squad this weekend, the midweek effort in New Zealand ended in disappointing fashion as the Lions drew in Wellington.

Tommy Seymour scores their third try Tommy Seymour scored two tries for the Lions. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Warren Gatland’s side were in control at half time with a 23-7 lead against a rather sloppy Hurricanes effort, but the tourists dipped in the second half and had to settle for a 31-31 draw in the end – a late yellow card for Henderson proving costly.

With Gatland unwilling to send on the ‘geography six’ as replacements – excepting a six-minute stint for Finn Russell when Dan Biggar had a HIA – the Lions’ energy levels declined late in the game, one that was not of the greatest quality even if it was hugely entertaining.

There was a farcical scene at the very death, with Welsh prop Tomas Francis seemingly ready to come on but twice he was turned around and he didn’t get a Lions cap in the end.

Tommy Seymour scored two of the Lions’ tries, while George North – who spent much of the game playing in midfield after an early injury to Robbie Henshaw – notched the third, and Biggar was good off the tee for the Lions.

The Wales out-half had a last-minute drop goal attempt but it was a tired one and it was well off target. The Hurricanes were good for their draw, with Ngani Laumape particularly outstanding in the Super Rugby outfit’s four-try performance.

So ends a disappointing tour for the Lions midweekers, who won just one of their fixtures in New Zealand, and it also marks the end of a bizarre couple of weeks for the ‘geography six,’ who will now depart the squad.

Tommy Seymour scores their first try Seymour scored the Lions' first. Source: Photosport/Raghavan Venugopal/INPHO

Biggar got the ball rolling for the Lions with an early penalty at the Cake Tin, and their first try arrived in the 18th minute as Greig Laidlaw picked off Otere Black’s pass in the Lions’ 22, making it into the Hurricanes half before being felled by Vince Aso.

But Laidlaw popped the ball off the deck to the supporting Seymour, who streaked under the posts for a converted try.

The loss of Henshaw to a shoulder injury saw Leigh Halfpenny introduced and meant a re-jig of the backline that left North at inside centre. Though the Lions looked disjointed, Biggar kept the scoreboard ticking with another three points.

The Hurricanes forwards finally muscled up coming towards the half-hour mark, with Glasgow-bound openside Callum Gibbins hammering through Rory Best and Laidlaw to finish a series of pick and jams – his progress seemingly aided by referee Romain Poite accidentally impeding Laidlaw.

Jordie Barrett converted but the Lions finished a fine first half in style as Henderson scooped up a bouncing ball and cleverly found North on his left shoulder to spring clear under the posts and allow the Lions into a 23-7 lead at the break.

George North celebrates scoring their second try with Iain Henderson Henderson gave the assist for North's try. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Having been poor in the first half, the Hurricanes finally showed their attacking class early in the second – inside centre Laumape finishing a wonderful try.

Aso’s inside pass to Julian Savea cut the Lions’ rushing midfield defence apart and the All Blacks wing hit Laumape on the right touchline to hammer through Biggar – sending him for a HIA in the process – to dot down, Barrett again converting.

The 20-year-old fullback missed a long-range penalty shot at goal after Dan Cole was pinged for a collapsed scrum, but he was back on target in the 50th minute as the momentum swung in the Canes’ favour and they drew back to 23-17.

The purple patch didn’t last though, with scrum-half Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi sent to the sin bin for a high tackle on Jack Nowell that allowed Biggar to extend the Lions’ lead back out to nine points.

Henderson’s influence grew as he made an outstanding carry through Brad Shields to kick start the Lions next attack, one he almost finished with a try under the posts following another meaty carry – the TMO review showing he was just about held up.

Rory Best speaks to the team before the game Rory Best speaks to the Lions. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The Lions weren’t to be denied, however, and they were patient in their subsequent phase play off the scrum, before Nowell and Halfpenny freed Seymour for his second in the left corner.

North had a possible try chalked off in the 63rd minute after his right foot went into touch before he had touched down, and then the Lions lost Henderson to a damaging yellow card with 15 minutes to go, the Irish lock tipping Barrett over in a clearout.

Sensing their opportunity, the Canes went direct in the Lions’ 22 with lots of forward-focused ball carrying, and then Barrett – moved in to out-half at this stage – floated a gorgeous pass wide right to replacement wing Wes Goosen to score, Barrett converting the try himself.

The Lions were tiring and with Gatland unwilling to send on the ‘geography six’, the Hurricanes had their tails up.

Laumape carried powerfully off a lineout platform, and then Fifita got on the end of a series of narrow drives, diving over under the posts to the delight of the home crowd, Barrett levelling the game at 31-31 with his conversion.

Wes Goosen scores their third try Wes Goosen scores the Canes' third try. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Halfpenny dropped a loose Milner-Skudder kick under little pressure to hand the Super Rugby side their next chance against the 14 men in defence, but after another Laumape break and offload, the Canes couldn’t control the ball.

They then knocked on over the tryline with three minutes left, although the TMO called play back for a penalty against Laumape for a neck roll anyway.

With Henderson returning, the Lions had enough left in the tank to clear their lines and though Biggar had a last-gasp drop goal from long range, they couldn’t find a winner.

Hurricanes scorers:

Tries: Callum Gibbins, Ngani Laumape, Wes Goosen, Vaea Fifita

Conversions: Jordie Barrett [4 from 4]

Penalties: Jordie Barrett [1 from 2]

Lions scorers:

Tries: Tommy Seymour [2], George North

Conversions: Dan Biggar [2 from 3]

Penalties: Dan Biggar [4 from 4]

HURRICANES: Jordie Barrett; Nehe Milner-Skudder, Vince Aso, Ngani Laumape, Julian Savea (Cory Jane ’68); Otere Black (Wes Goosen ’62), Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi (yellow card ’51) (Kemara Hauiti-Parapara ’69); Ben May (Chris Eves ’57), Ricky Riccitelli (Leni Apisai ’62), Jeffrey To’omaga-Allen; Mark Abbott, Sam Lousi; Vaea Fifita, Callum Gibbins, Brad Shields (captain) (Reed Prinsep ’57).

Replacements: Mike Kainga, James Blackwell.

LIONS: Jack Nowell; Tommy Seymour, Jonathan Joseph, Robbie Henshaw (Leigh Halfpenny ’20), George North; Dan Biggar (Finn Russell ’43 to ’48), Greig Laidlaw; Joe Marler, Rory Best (captain), Dan Cole; Iain Henderson (yellow card ’66), Courtney Lawes (George Kruis ’54); James Haskell, Justin Tipuric, CJ Stander.

Replacements not used: Kristian Dacey, Allan Dell, Tomas Francis, Cory Hill, Gareth Davies.

Referee: Romain Poite [FFR].

Attendance: 38,690.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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