Rampant Lions make big statement with record win over Maoris
The British and Irish Lions made a statement by silencing their critics with a record 32-10 victory over the Maori All Blacks at a packed Rotorua International Stadium on Saturday.
New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen said Warren Gatland was "running out of time" to produce a Lions team with a style capable of troubling the world champions a week before the three-Test series gets under way.
The Lions, though, let their rugby do the talking a day after the All Blacks' 78-0 demolition of Samoa, though, dominating the Maoris in a hugely impressive performance after losing to Highlanders on Tuesday.
A direct, physical approach paid off for the tourists, who were far too good for the undisciplined Moaris and were rewarded with a penalty try and another for the superb Maro Itoje in a one-sided second half after Tawera Kerr-Barlow was sin-binned for a dangerous tackle on Leigh Halfpenny.
An expectant crowd did not see the stylish Maori display they were hoping for, as the Lions put them under immense pressure by winning their battles all over the park, with Liam Messam scoring their only try in a first half played in wet conditions.
Jonathan Sexton staked a huge claim for the number 10 spot, with Owen Farrell absent due to a reported quadriceps injury, while Halfpenny was magnificent as the Lions racked up their biggest ever win over the Maoris.
The trusty Halfpenny nailed all seven kicks to stay perfect with the boot on tour - scoring 22 points on the night - and Gatland will be looking for more of the same from the Lions when they face Chiefs on Tuesday.
Sexton's high kicks caused the Maoris huge problems from the start and led to two Halfpenny penalties after the Lions came charging out of the blocks.
Messam took advantage of poor handling from George North in testing conditions to boot a loose ball forward and touch down for an opening try, which Damian McKenzie converted against the run of play to put the Maoris in front.
The clinical Halfpenny and McKenzie, with his trademark smile before stepping up to kick, exchanged further penalties to leave the tourists 10-9 down as Sexton continued to pose questions of the Maoris with the boot.
A clever Sexton kick right into the corner gave the Lions a great chance to score their opening try after 26 minutes, only for a poor lineout to let the Maoris off the hook, but Halfpenny's fourth successful strike from the tee gave the tourists a 12-10 lead.
McKenzie was off target from long range prior to the interval and the Lions remained on top following the break, the influential Sexton launching steepling kicks and Gatland's men dominating set-pieces.
Halfpenny sent over another penalty and did well to pick himself up after he was cleaned out by a dangerous tackle from Kerr-Barlow, who was shown a yellow card - which could easily have been red.
The Lions thought they had cashed in on their numerical advantage almost immediately when Jamie George powered his way towards the line, but the TMO could not see any evidence that the England hooker had got the ball over.
The Maoris gave away numerous penalties and referee Jaco Peyper awarded a penalty try after they were overpowered in a scrum in the 51st minute.
Matt Proctor departed with a shoulder injury after colliding with an inspired Halfpenny and Itoje bulldozed his way over for another five-pointer for a rampant Lions side after 54 minutes.
Halfpenny converted and took his record from the tee on the evening to seven out of seven as the Lions showed plenty of encouraging signs that they can challenge the world champions.