ROTORUA INTERNATIONA STADIUM, New Zealand -- Forward dominance, physicality and some real grunt saw the British & Irish Lions dispatch the Maori All Blacks in Rotorua. Their pack were magnificent and for all the talk of the Maori's ridiculously talented backline, as the rain teamed down and the grassy banks became ever more slippery, they failed to stretch their legs.
It was a match the Lions knew they could not afford to lose. With a record heading into the game of two from four, and plenty of outside criticism of Warren Gatland's decision to call up six new players to offer the Test side a chance to sit out midweek matches, they needed to turn the attention back to the field. They did that, but there is still plenty to work on before they face the All Blacks on June 24.
They would have seen the ease at which New Zealand dispatched Samoa on Friday evening, their try-scoring ability and ruthlessness of first phase. To beat the All Blacks, the Lions would have to get set piece ascendancy and they managed that against the Maori.
It was not insignificant that the man refereeing the match in Rotorua was Jaco Peyper, the chap who will preside over the first Test next weekend. He would have got a good understanding of the Lions and the way they play. The tourists, too, would be happy having conceded only four penalties to the Maori's 15.
The Lions now head to Hamilton to face the Chiefs, but the focus is on next Saturday's Test where they will go with confidence after this win over the Maori. Here are some of the lessons we learned from their win in the rain at Rotorua.
The pack finds its roar
For those sat in the Rotorua International Stadium's sheltered stand, their heads were strained to the Maori tryline for the whole of the second half. The pack kept the Maori camped in their own half and the foot on their throat. They were immense, playing to the conditions and preventing the Maori from getting a foothold in the second half.
The good news for Gatland was that the intensity was kept high even when replacements were brought on. But at the heart of their magnificent effort were the two Saracens locks, George Kruis and Maro Itoje. The only blot on their copy book were the two penalties Itoje gave away, but bar that, this was an omnipresent showing as they took the ball into contact, maintained set piece ascendancy and kept the heat on the Maori.
The front-row also got the nudge on the Maori pack, forcing a penalty try, while the starting back-row of Sean O'Brien, Peter O'Mahony and Taulupe Faletau fared well. Iain Henderson continued to grow into the tour from the bench while Sam Warburton also got a good run out with
The arm round Sexton's shoulder has worked
Jonathan Sexton was short of form when he arrived in New Zealand. He was poor by his high standards against the NZ Provincial Barbarians but he has played himself back into form.
The Lions coaching staff have made a concerted effort to give him every chance to re-find his form. For the 67 minutes he was on the pitch, he looked every inch the world-class player he is. Gatland has an intriguing call to make at fly-half next weekend if he truly regards Owen Farrell as only a No.10 and not an inside centre. But then again, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen did say Gatland had a few things up his sleeve...
Finishing still needs work
The Lions are still squandering chances. They should have had another couple of tries under the night sky in Rotorua. The conditions were horrible, but still passes are finding a horrible knack of falling to the ground, rather than to hands. Early on there was a lovely move with Sexton, Tadhg Furlong and Murray working well in tandem, but it broke down. Similarly, gainline breaks weren't converted, as Ben Te'o's gallop through the Maori defence in the second-half showed.
Though they scored twice, they could have had a further score when Jamie George's effort was deemed inconclusive by the referee. These must be finished if they are to knock over the All Blacks, who gave an exercise in clinical play against Samoa.
Halfpenny proves Test credentials
Barring something more surprising than Gatland's six call ups, Halfpenny will surely be the Test fullback against the All Blacks. He was faultless from the tee, and is showing some form heading forwards.
There was a wonderful move in the first half where Halfpenny hoisted a ball into the sky, collected it, found Sexton who then kicked to touch just a metre from the Maori line. He will surely be wearing 15 next Saturday.