The British and Irish Lions bounced back with a commanding 32-10 win over the Maori All Blacks in Rotorua on Saturday.
Leigh Halfpenny finished with 20 points as the Lions scored second half tries through a penalty try and second-row Maro Itoje, having completely dominated after half-time as the Maoris failed to add any points.
As with the Crusaders, for all their firepower out wide the Maori All Blacks could not get firing against a miserly Lions pack, whose kicking game dominated the contest.
The so-called ‘fourth Test’ certainly played out like a Test match, aided by difficult, slippery conditions in Rotorua. The Lions simply outpowered their opposition in the second half, moving clear thanks to two quick tries.
Finishing off line breaks and soft penalties, familiar issues on this tour, appeared once again in Rotorua and especially in the first half, before the Lions ultimately settled.
They started patiently, showing good ball retention and involving their forwards before winning a penalty for not rolling away, converted by Halfpenny with four minutes on the clock.
Their initial approach was tight but effective, momentum from the maul and then Murray’s box kick forcing an offside penalty for Halfpenny to make it 6-0.
Understandably the Maori All Blacks wanted to lift the tempo, opting for quick lineouts, but with the ball slipping and sliding all over the place it was the hosts who scored the first try against the run of play.
Milner-Skudder’s grubber kick wasn’t covered by George North and Leigh Halfpenny, the two colliding with the loose ball then hacked on into space for Messam to slide and score. McKenzie converted to give the Maori a 7-6 lead.
Slightly deflated as a result of that the Lions needed a lift, and it came from a Jonathan Davies break, spotting the space and cutting through as the Lions came away with a third penalty from Halfpenny. The lack of a try however was symptomatic of the Lions’ issues in the red zone on this tour.
McKenzie responded instantly with his first three-pointer, with his opposite man Sexton growing in confidence and enjoying his best game so far on tour.
Tries might have looked unlikely for the Lions but the work of their tight five especially in defence and attack continued to win penalties, the Maori penalised for not rolling away as Halfpenny made it 12-10.
McKenzie attempted a long-range strike from 60 metres to swing the lead back, his kick having the distance but not the direction.
A soft breakdown penalty conceded by Tadgh Furlong threatened to put the Lions under pressure, but the defence held firm to win a penalty, ensuring the Lions led at the break despite not knowing their laws and kicking straight to touch from the penalty, consequently forced to take another lineout.
The heavens opening naturally suited the Lions’ approach perfectly, Halfpenny adding three more points, as Lowe continued to struggle under the high ball.
And the tourists’ control on the contest continued to grow after Tawera Kerr-Barlow’s yellow card for leading with the shoulder on Halfpenny metres out from the line.
Jamie George claimed to have scored, the TMO ruling he was short of the line, and the Lions simply had to come away with points so close to the home side’s line. Winning successive scrum penalties with huge power from the tight five, Jaco Peyper awarded a penalty try.
A second try wasn’t far behind, Itoje burrowing his way over after another five-metre scrum, with the Maori All Blacks having been harried back into their own dead-ball area by more accurate kicking. Halfpenny, yet to miss, converted from out wide.
Peter O’Mahony’s treatment on his knee saw him swiftly replaced by Sam Warburton with the game wearing on, the Lions pack continuing to dictate.
Halfpenny twisted the screw with a sixth penalty after the Maoris strayed offside, making the score 32-10, with the Lions unable to add to their tally but leaving Rotorua with a spring in their step.
For Maori All Blacks:
Yellow Card: Kerr-Barlow
For British and Irish Lions:
Tries: Penalty Try, Itoje
Con: Penalty Try, Halfpenny
Pens: Halfpenny 6
Maori All Blacks: 15 James Lowe, 14 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Charlie Ngatai, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Damian McKenzie, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Liam Messam, 7 Elliot Dixon, 6 Akira Ioane, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Joe Wheeler, 3 Ben May, 2 Ash Dixon (c), 1 Kane Hames
Replacements: 16 Hikawera Elliot, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Marcel Renata, 19 Leighton Price, 20 Kara Pryor, 21 Bryn Hall, 22 Ihaia West, 23 Rob Thompson
British and Irish Lions: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Ben Te’o, 11 George North, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Sean O’Brien, 6 Peter O’Mahony (c), 5 George Kruis, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Jamie George, 1 Mako Vunipola
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Sam Warburton, 21 Greig Laidlaw, 22 Dan Biggar, 23 Elliot Daly
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant Referees: Jérôme Garcès (France), Romain Poite (France)
TMO: Ian Smith (Australia)