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Highlanders maintain southern record over Lions

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Lynn McConnell     13 Jun 2017     Getty Images

Before professionalism Otago beat the Lions four times while Southland had two wins from within the Highlanders' catchment area.

OPINION PIECE: WHAT WE HAVE LEARNED FROM THE LIONS

In the end it was a cooly-taken 73rd minute penalty goal, and the Lions conceded too many penalties for comfort, to replacement five-eighths Marty Banks that nudged the home side ahead. He has been a significant figure for his side during the Investec Super Rugby season and that showed again when he directed play with assurance in the hectic final stages.

Lock Jackson Hemopo was a tower of strength in the middle of the Highlanders pack while No.8 Luke Whitelock was strong on the carry, and the tackle while Gareth Evans was an industrious playmaker in the loose.

It was a big Highlanders scrum in the 71st minute that produced the penalty which Banks goaled to secure the lead.

The Lions had two chances, one a 57m long range penalty goal attempt by Elliott Daly which dropped just under the bar, and then a final lineout which saw the backs given the ball but a short pass from replacement five-eighths Owen Farrell, which looked forward, was knocked on by Joseph and the Highlanders kicked the ball dead.

Among the home backs another rarely used starter Teihorangi Walden had a fine game in midfield with wing Waisake Naholo a constant danger.

Lions No.8 CJ Stander impressed again with strong running on the ball and constant presence in defence. Iain Henderson was competitive with some strong runs with the ball in hand while flanker Sam Warburton was also impressive. Joseph was a danger in the backs and halfback Rhys Webb had a fine game before leaving the field injured. The Lions also lost lock Courtney Lawes to concussion during the first half.

In the 15th minute, the Lions made the most of the Highlanders carrying the ball back into the 22m area from a scrum just out from the line. Banks, who was on while Malakai Fekitoa had a concussion Test, went into touch on the full.

The Lions won the lineout and launched a series attacks at the line. Left wing Tommy Seymour charged hard at the line but the TMO couldn't find conclusive evidence of a try while Webb, who had made a superb blindside run shortly before, tried a dive over the goal-line ruck but dropped the ball just before grounding it.

Naholo's danger near the line was seen after a tap penalty, taken by Evans opened up the Lions defence, and Fekitoa extended that when working his way through. Ball was moved back to the left where Evans handled again before Walden and Whitelock drove at the line before the chance was created for Naholo to go over beside the posts.

The Lions responded immediately, although they conceded the restart when Naholo stole the high ball. The ball was moved by the Highlanders with left wing Tevita Li making a scything run back to midfield. However, he was penalised for not releasing in the tackle and the Lions kicked to the Highlanders 22m line.

Winning the lineout they moved the ball and it was centre Jonathan Joseph who crossed wide out for the Lions' first try.

At the start of the second half Sopoaga looked to launch one of his cross kicks but Fekitoa and Naholo were unable to get up to claim the ball and flying Lions wing Tommy Seymour got the ball and raced away unchallenged to put the Lions in front.

Soon after, landing a 50th minute penalty goal Sopoaga threw a poor pass just out from his goal-line which went to ground and Fekitoa tidied but passed to Naholo who was on the dead ball line. From the five-metre scrum, Joseph went close to scoring a second try, but when the ball was moved it was flanker and skipper Sam Warburton who crossed by the goalposts.

But fullback Jared Payne dropped the re-start when unchallenged. When a penalty occurred in the subsequent play the Highlanders tried a driving maul but when it was countered the Lions cleared only to commit another penalty which saw replacement for Sopoaga, Banks kicked to the corner.

This time the lineout drive was immaculate in its execution with hooker Liam Coltman on the back of maul and scoring.

It was a fast-paced game and the Highlanders, ultimately, were better equipped to cope with the demands of the speed of play.

Scorers: Highlanders 23 (Waisake Naholo, Liam Coltman tries; Lima Sopoaga con, 2 pen; Marty Banks con, pen) British & Irish Lions 22 (Jonathan Joseph, Tommy Seymour, Sam Warburton tries; Dan Biggar 2 con, pen). HT: 10-10