Blues claim historic first with win over Lions

Getty Images

Lynn McConnell     07 Jun 2017     Getty Images

It took 73 minutes for the home side, but two off-loads, one from acting captain and No.8 Steven Luatua, and the second from Mr Offload himself, Sonny Bill Williams, created the match-winning chance which saw replacement first five-eighths Ihaia West burst onto the ball at speed to beat Lions first five-eighths replacement Johnny Sexton with ease to score under the posts.
It was sweet reward for West who has been under-rated while the Blues forward pack were performing below standard, but with the momentum they were able to create at a crucial stage, he was in his element.

There were stages when the Blues let opportunities slip, and they were not as strong in the set-pieces as was required to dominate the Lions.

However, clearer purpose as opposed to cross-field phase play from the Lions, served the Blues well with their inventiveness and that was never better demonstrated than in the last play of the game when with a penalty lineout in the corner the Lions failed to secure the lineout, which the Blues didn't contest, and the home team cleared to claim the first victory by a Super Rugby franchise over a touring team in New Zealand.

The determined defence of the Blues stood the test as the Lions threw everything at them but they rarely gained significant breakthroughs to make a difference. Luatua, Akira Ioane and Blake Gibson were stoic but it was a great effort by the side generally in defence.

In the second half the Lions were only able to score via fullback Leigh Halfpenny's goal-kicking boot as he landed two penalty goals to go with one he kicked in the first half.

The Lions enjoyed 55 percent of possession and 63 percent of territory in the first half but a head high tackle by the Lions try scorer No.8 CJ Stander had consequences just after the half-time hooter.

Blues first five-eighths Stephen Perofeta, who had a controlled display in esteemed company to mark his first start for the side, hit the goalpost with his penalty goal attempt.

Lions wing Jack Nowell leapt for the ball in the goalmouth and knocked the ball in-goal where second five-eighths Sonny Bill Williams dived through a melee of players to secure a try. It took the TMO to decide whether competing TJ Faiane, a concussion test replacement for Matt Duffie, had knocked the ball on but the evidence was clear and Williams had his try.

It was an unfortunate half for Nowell as in the sixth minute he was beaten hands down by Blues left wing Rieko Ioane who ran onto a long ball from Perofeta to create room with ease to score the opening try.

Again, that move was created after Perofeta had kick-passed to Blues fullback Michael Collins on the sideline. He set up the ruck which provided the chance for the Blues to move the ball quickly.

The Lions came back, however, taking every chance they could to attempt to draw the sting out of the home pack. They kicked penalties into the corner to create lineout drives and that finally brought a 17th minute try for Stander.

Earlier, just after Ioane's try, former Blues centre Jared Payne looked to have scored against his old side for the Lions but the TMO saw that his leg had drifted into touch before he managed to touch the ball down.

The Blues struggled to secure their lineout ball as the Lions through Maro Itoje and Courtney Lawes contested their throws making the ball insecure and causing issues. However, referee Pascal Gauzere frequently warned the Lions for their infringing on the mark at the line.

There was confusion after a move in which Ofa Tu'ungafasi was clearly offside in making a tackle after a high bomb which saw the ball drop free for Ioane to pounce and race away but the TMO evidence was clear and the Lions had a chance to counter but were unable to score.

West marked his arrival from the substitute's bench with a penalty goal, just after Ioane had been denied a try when, like Payne earlier, his leg crossed the touchline before he scored.

But trouble for the Lions came when replacement wing Liam Williams twice, within moments, infringed when challenging Duffie in the air and bringing him down by wrapping his arm around him. That resulted in a sin-binning in the 56th minute.

The Blues couldn't capitalise on his absence but even at full-strength the Lions were unable to find a way to thread through the home side who emerged deserved winners.

Scorers: Blues 22 (Rieko Ioane, Sonny Bill Williams, Ihaia West tries; Stephen Perofeta con; Ihaia West con pen) British & Irish Lions 16 (CJ Stander tries; Leigh Halfpenny con, 3 pen). HT: 12-10