Again the Lions find themselves on the end of an other disappointing loss to a Super Rugby side. The Highlanders became the second side to beat the Lions in four games, despite the Lions possibly putting in their best all-round performance of the tour so far.
The Lions looked fresh and had a lot of attacking vigor but the forward pack struggled against their opposite numbers, who have a considerably less international experience. The driving maul yet again failed to impress with the Lions’ attempts stalling very regularly.
The backs were indifferent against a very keen Highlanders side. The Otago side were impressive with one of my favourite things as a rugby player and fan. Line speed. The Kiwis were in the Lions’ faces from start to finish and didn’t give the likes of Henshaw much time to think when on the ball. Over-exuberance at times did allow Rhys Webb to break the line from a ruck but the Highlanders defended well.
After the news of Stuart Hogg having to leave the tour due to a fractured cheek bone, you had two things on your mind; please let there be no more injuries and can someone make the full-back jersey theirs. Neither happened. Courtney Lawes was absolutely bulldozed by Naholo and as a result failed a head injury assessment. This for a player who was carrying so well, putting in big tackles and just having a really good way and justifying his selection. Hopefully his tour won’t be ended too soon.
As for full-back it was Jared Payne’s turn to wear #15, and of course he disappointed. Payne kept on dropping high balls and was largely unimpressive going forward. After his performance against the Blues where, again, the Lions lost, he has played himself out of the test side entirely, never mind the matchday 23. When Elliot Daly came on to replace Payne, he looked a lot more comfortable despite having not played there for some time.
Tommy Seymour scored a magnificent individual try which definitely put him in the running to be involved in the first test, Jonathan Joseph was good in spells and went over the line as well. Seymour’s try was was a great demonstration of an opportunists try and showed that the Scot doesn’t lack any pace. After becoming only one of two Scottish internationals there is a good chance that Seymour will be involved in the matchday 23.
The back row were largely unimpressive. Stander didn’t carry very well at all and after the first Highlanders contact was made, Stander didn’t go that much further. Haskell was involved early on in the game and seemed to phase in and out of the game. Warburton, the tour captain, played the best out of everyone in the back row. He scored a try with a good leg drive but that was probably about it.
It’s getting to the stage were the test XV is starting to be formulated in Gatland’s mind. For me at the moment the starting XV in ten days time is: Watson; North; Davies, Henshaw; Williams; Farrell, Murray; Vunipola, George, Furlong; Itoje, Wyn Jones; Moriarty, Tipuric, Faletau.