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McGrath the best of the Irish on a disappointing night for the Lions

Johnny Sexton got a long stint off the bench but was unable to make a major impact.

Murray Kinsella reports from Eden Park, Auckland

THE LIONS SUFFERED defeat in their second game of the tour to New Zealand, with the Blues winning 22-16 at Eden Park.

Read our match report here, but below we focus on the Irish players involved in Auckland.

Robbie Henshaw

The barreling Leinster centre got slowed up in contact after a couple of high carries early on, though he found his feet well and thundered at the Blues with aggression throughout the 80 minutes.

Robbie Henshaw Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Henshaw was overshadowed in the midfield battle by the outstanding Sonny Bill Williams, but he did find his way over the gainline for the Lions and showed excellent footwork several times.

Ben Te’o was superb against far weaker opposition in the Provincial Barbarians on Saturday, and he may yet put some heat under Henshaw in the battle for the number 12 Test shirt.

Nonetheless, Henshaw remains the favourite at this stage, and the best is yet to come from him.

 

CJ Stander

The Munster man had a tough start as he was stripped in contact by the superb Williams, but he grew into the game and was soon over for a try, biding his time intelligently at the back of a patient maul before pouncing.

CJ Stander dejected after the game Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

A sloppy high tackle on Steven Luatua just before the break eventually led to Williams’ try, but generally Stander was effective in defence and led the tackle count for the Lions in a hard-working performance.

Unsurprisingly, Stander was also top of the ball-carrying stats and there were a handful of passes too as the Lions looked to get their attacking phase play game up and running.

Stander was not error-free but there was much to build on in this performance as he looks to pressure Taulupe Faletau for the number eight shirt.

Jack McGrath

The Lions’ scrum was among the real positives of the night for Gatland’s side, with Leinster man McGrath excelling against All Blacks tighthead Charlie Faumuina and Dan Cole doing well on the other side.

A view of the Lions team during the Blues Haka Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The tourists had a 100% return on their own ball, and they won a couple of crucial penalties in this area too, as Kyle Sinckler and Joe Marler continued the fine scrum work off the bench.

McGrath was also among the busiest defenders for the Lions, with a number of meaty hits around the fringes of the rucks. Though the Lions had lapses in defence, McGrath looked strong.

The Ireland prop didn’t get many opportunities to offer attacking contributions, but he should be quietly pleased with his first Lions outing.

Jared Payne

His night was unfortunately cut short by cramp in the same calf he strained last week, an injury that denied him the chance to play against the Barbarians.

Jared Payne receives treatment after leaving the field with an injury Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Payne also had a possible try correctly chalked off by the TMO in the first half, when Stephen Perofeta did just enough to ensure the Ulsterman’s left foot was in touch as he dotted the ball down.

It would have meant a perfect return to Eden Park for the New Zealand native, who played for the Blues in the 2011 season before joining Ulster.

Unfortunately for Payne, the game didn’t flow his way in attack aside from that near miss, while he was not able to stand out in defence either. This will feel like an opportunity missed for Payne and he must be hoping his calf comes good.

Johnny Sexton

The out-half got longer on the pitch than he could have expected with Dan Biggar forced off for a HIA in the 36th minute, the Welshman failing the assessment.

Jonathan Sexton speaks to the players in the dressing room Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Sexton looked better tonight than he had in Whangarei three days ago, with some nice early touches, but he didn’t cover himself in glory as he attempted to halt Ihaia West when the Blues playmaker scorched home for the winning try.

That said, it was a tough situation for Sexton as he bit back in from the outside. The 31-year-old missed another tackle for the Lions, however, and he still looks some way off his best.

With Owen Farrell set to start against the Crusaders on Saturday and Biggar having failed his HIA, Sexton is set to be on the Lions bench again for that clash, meaning a third involvement on game day in a week.

He will be keen to bring his most accurate kicking if he gets another chance off the bench, after getting too much distance on two of his efforts tonight.

Rory Best

The Ulster hooker will take lots of flak for the last-minute lineout failing, but the blame does not lie solely on his shoulders. There was a clear miscommunication throughout the pack as they stuttered under the pressure.

Rory Best dejected after the game Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Best had come onto the pitch as captain just after Ken Owens’ crooked throw, and he would have hoped to lead them onto a win that underlined his leadership credentials.

Leigh Halfpenny’s penalty sent the Lions into a 16-15 lead towards the end of Liam Williams’ sin-binning period and it appeared their set-piece dominance was going to steer them home.

But when the heat came on, Best and co. failed to deliver, the hooker’s throw sailing over Maro Itoje’s head and sealing the Blues’ win.

Iain Henderson

Henderson only had five minutes to get stuck in and therefore didn’t have a great chance to make an impression, but he was also part of the lineout failing late in the game that will hurt every one of the forwards involved.

Peter O’Mahony

The Munster captain got a decent 26-minute stint off the bench to make an impact, but he was another Irishman who struggled to have a major influence on the outcome.

Maro Itoje is overthrown in the lineout Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

O’Mahony’s lineout prowess, particularly in defence, will be attractive to Gatland when it comes to the Test series, and it will be fascinating to see how the Cork man goes when he gets his first start of the tour against the Crusaders on Saturday.

In Eden Park, limited chances to get on the ball or tackle Blues meant O’Mahony wasn’t able to show what he is capable of.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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