B&I Lions bounce back to edge Saders
REPORT: The British and Irish Lions bounced back from their mid-week defeat to grind out a hard-fought 12-3 victory over the Crusaders in Christchurch on Saturday.
Owen Farrell kicked all the visitors' points as a nearly full-strength Lions side handed the Southern Hemisphere's leading franchise their first loss of the season.
The Lions were lacklustre in their first two games - including Wednesday's shock defeat to the Blues - but Saturday's performance is likely to make the All Blacks sit up and take notice, two weeks from the opening Test.
Farrell kicked four penalties for the Lions and Richie Mo'unga landed one for the Crusaders, and the biggest problem for the Lions was that they could not find the try line.
But they did keep their own line intact, shutting down the famed Crusaders attack, with Farrell pivotal to the transformation.
He generally kicked short to make the ball contestable, with the Lions winning the aerial battle. Apart from one misfired pass which potentially cost Jonathan Davies a try, Farrell's running game was damaging.
With travel fatigue now out of the system, the Lions needed to make a statement and ironically their cause was helped when Davies went off injured in the first half, allowing Johnny Sexton to take the field as a second playmaker.
In a match viewed as a fourth Test, Warren Gatland fielded his strongest XV of the tour so far, minus injured captain Sam Warburton, and under the alternative leadership of Alun Wyn Jones, the Lions took control from the start.
Gatland has always maintained that his focus is winning the Tests, and in a match-up of Test-style intensity, his players were not found wanting.
They struggled in the scrums against the All Blacks-laden pack, but that was an area where the Crusaders were frequently penalised, and Peter O'Mahony and Alun Wyn Jones ensured the Lions functioned better at the lineouts.
The big problem for the Lions remained their inability to finish.
In the first half, a pass to an unmarked George North missed its man and Davies spilt a bullet pass from Farrell in the shadow of the posts.
In the second half, Liam Williams dropped a difficult pass metres short of the corner post and was also guilty, along with Christiaan Stander, of knocking the ball on when the Crusaders were in disarray.
With the Tests in mind, the Lions made points a priority and Farrell landing three penalties in the first half to one for the Crusaders by Mo'unga.
The first 30 minutes of the second half were scoreless until Farrell landed a fourth penalty with 10 minutes to play.
Man of the match: Richie Mo'unga continues to impress in his push for an All Blacks cap while Israel Dagg put in a solid performance. Owen Farrell's tactical kicking was on song as he kept pushing the Crusaders back and kept his side's nose in front with another near-flawless kicking display. Conor Murray controlled the tempo brilliantly and his combination with Farrell - and the Sexton - proved why he is one to watch for the remainder of the tour. There was a player who got the British and Irish Lions on the front foot with nearly all his carries, added plenty of metres and left a few Crusaders defenders clutching at air as he raced through them - Ben Te'o.
For the Crusaders:
For the British and Irish Lions:
Pens: Farrell 4
Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Seta Tamanivalu, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 David Havili, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo'unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Jordan Taufua, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, 5 Samuel Whitelock (captain), 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody,
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Quinten Strange, 20 Jed Brown, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Tim Bateman.
British and Irish Lions: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Ben Te'o, 11 Liam Williams, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Sean O'Brien, 6 Peter O'Mahony, 5 George Kruis, 4 Alun Wyn Jones (captain), 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Jamie George, 2 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Dan Cole, 19 Maro Itoje, 20 Christiaan Stander, 21 Rhys Webb, 22 Johnny Sexton, 23 Anthony Watson.
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)
Assistant referees: Angus Gardner (Australia), Pascal Gauzère (France)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)