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Lions floor Maori in All Blacks dress rehearsal

June 19, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Leigh Halfpenny booted the British and Irish Lions to a convincing 32-10 win over the Maori All Blacks on Saturday to regain precious momentum ahead of next week’s first Test against New Zealand.

Furlong

After turning 12-10 ahead, a penalty try soon after half-time and try from lock Maro Itoje — when the Maori had a man in the sin-bin — gave the Lions complete control at a wet Rotorua. Halfpenny kicked six penalties and a conversion.

“It’s important for our momentum, our confidence,” said Lions captain Peter O’Mahony.

“You don’t want to be going into a game against the All Blacks with losses under our belt. This win goes a long way to building what we want to build.”

The Lions’ confidence-boosting win, after Tuesday’s loss to the Otago Highlanders and a week before they face the All Blacks, underscored how the first Test in Auckland will be a battle of contrasting styles.

While the All Blacks ran from all angles in their 12-try, 78-0 win over Samoa on Friday, the clinical Lions stuck to their formula of mixing a kick-and-chase game from Conor Murray with strong, driving, forward play.

They had the better of the Maori in the air and at the breakdown, and they dominated the scrums in the second half.

Such was their overwhelming control, boosted by the scavenging of Sean O’Brien, that they enjoyed more than 70 percent of possession.

But despite an abundance of ball and territory they struggled to beat a tenacious Maori defence and get across the line.

The Lions did, however, successfully shut down the Maori backs and young All Blacks Nehe Milner-Skudder, Rieko Ioane and Damian McKenzie — all considered exceptional ball-runners — had few opportunities.

The one time Milner-Skudder featured it produced the game’s opening try, when he slipped through a gap and kicked ahead.

George North failed to gather the ball, allowing Liam Messam to charge through and touch down on 12 minutes.

It was not until the Maori were down to 14 men, with scrum-half Tawera Kerr-Barlow yellow-carded for a no-arms tackle on Halfpenny, that the Lions benefited with their two tries.

The first was a seven-point penalty try when the Maori forwards, already on a warning from referee Jaco Peyper, gave way in a five-metre scrum.

The second try went to Saracens lock Itoje, who barged over after another Maori scrum disintegrated.

While the pre-match focus was on the Lions’ loose trio of Taulupe Faletau, O’Brien and Peter O’Mahony, it was Itoje who was the towering force among the forwards.

By the time Kerr-Barlow returned to the fray, the fight had gone out of his forward pack and the Lions forwards were able to rumble forward with confidence.

When the Maori had a full complement of 15 on the field, the Lions camped deep in enemy territory but they could not score a try.

Halfpenny landed four penalties in the first half with McKenzie converting Messam’s try and kicking a penalty for the Maori.

In addition to the two tries in the second half for the Lions, Halfpenny added a further two penalties and a conversion.

All Blacks count injury toll ahead of Lions

April 27, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Auckland Blues hardman Jerome Kaino has joined a growing list of All Blacks sidelined by injury as the Super Rugby competition takes its toll ahead of the British and Irish Lions tour.

All-Blacks

Kaino is to undergo surgery on an injured knee on Friday and will be out of action for six weeks, putting him in doubt for the first Lions Test against the All Blacks on June 24.

The unbeaten Canterbury Crusaders head to South Africa for their round 10 match against the Central Cheetahs still without Israel Dagg, who has not been sighted since injuring a knee in their third-round clash with the Queensland Reds.

Dane Coles and Nehe Milner-Skudder from the Wellington Hurricanes, Patrick Tuipulotu (Blues), Elliot Dixon and Lima Sopoaga (Otago Highlanders) and Tawera Kerr-Barlow (Waikato Chiefs) are also sidelined.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen took a philosophical view early in the season, saying the threat of injuries highlighted the need to develop depth.

“We can’t control it, so it’s no good worrying about it,” he said of the impact Super rugbyinjuries would have on the Lions Tests.

“We’ve just got to get on with getting them right and if they’re not going to be right by the time the Lions are due to play us, then we have to make other selections. That’s just part and parcel of the game of rugby,” he said.

All Blacks captain Kieran Read has travelled with the Crusaders to Bloemfontein despite a minor hip complaint and is expected to be fit for Saturday.

The Crusaders are enjoying a hot streak of form and the way they thumped the Western Stormers 57-24 last week underscored their ability to match the physical style of South African rugby then attack with daring offloads.

“We try not to inhibit the guys, and if it is on, to back themselves,” coach Scott Robertson said of the audacious passing.

The Cheetahs are still smarting from the way they yielded a 24-0 lead over the two-time champion Chiefs to lose 41-27 two weeks ago.

Coach Franco Smith has warned his players to shut the Chiefs debacle out of their minds or “we’re going to get a big klap”, he said, using the South African term for smack.

“I don’t think it will be difficult to get the players up again to play an international side, to play an All Black side will be a challenge.”

The Chiefs are not alone in coming from behind to beat the Cheetahs, who have lost six games after leading this season.

The struggling Blues, with only three wins on the board and now without Kaino and Tuipulotu, offer the ACT Brumbies the best chance yet for an Australian side to score a win over a New Zealand franchise this year.

The record so far stands at 14-0 in New Zealand’s favour and includes the Brumbies losing to the Crusaders, Highlanders and Hurricanes.

The Brumbies, like the Blues, have only three wins but while the Blues are bottom of the New Zealand conference, the Brumbies top the Australian sector where the game is struggling.

The NSW Waratahs had their lowest home crowd of all time when only 10,555 fans turned out to see them lose 26-24 last week to the Southern Kings, the worst-performing South African side.

This week they play the Reds in a battle to be the second-best Australian side, with neither team in a position to overtake the Brumbies.

All Blacks plan to face Samoa before British and Irish Lions’ tour

April 5, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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The All Blacks hope to warm-up for the British and Irish Lions tour with a Test match against Samoa, New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew has revealed.

All Blacks

Tew said the world champions wanted a hit-out before the first Test against the Lions on June 24 in Auckland and were in talks with the Pacific islanders, who are renowned for their hard-tackling rugby.

He said the All Blacks benefited from a similar warm-up against Fiji the last time the Lions toured in 2005, when they won the series 3-0.

“In 2005, we played Fiji and that set us up very well for a very good first-off Test match in Christchurch,” Tew told SkySports late Tuesday.

“So we’re looking at that option, Samoa’s definitely one of those things that we’re working our way through at the moment.”

Tew also rejected criticism of the Lions’ gruelling tour schedule, which sees them face all five New Zealand Super Rugby teams and the Maori All Blacks, as well as playing three Tests.

He said the tourists had asked for a challenge after their 2-1 series win in Australia in 2013.

“The Lions said they wanted a tougher itinerary than they got in Australia,” he said.

“They wanted to play the five Super Rugby sides and they deliberately chose to play the Maori All Blacks the week before the first Test.

“So they’ve actually got what they wanted.”

Tew joked that doubts about taking on the Super Rugby sides may have emerged after the Waikato Chiefs thrashed the touring Wales side 40-7 last year.

However, he believed the Lions would be a different story.

“They’re going to come out here with a lot of depth and a lot of talent,” he said.

“If they don’t get hit with injuries in critical positons we’re in for a hell of a series.”

All Blacks not at their peak for Lions tour, says Lewsey

March 30, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Ex-England international Josh Lewsey Wednesday said the British and Irish Lions had a great chance to overturn the All Blacks this year with the rebuilding world champions not at the “peak of their powers”.

All Blacks

Lewsey, speaking at the official launch of next month’s Hong Kong 10s tournament, said the timing was good for Warren Gatland’s Lions as they bid for their first series win in New Zealand in 46 years.

He said the All Blacks were “on their own journey” after greats including skipper Richie McCaw and fly-half Dan Carter stepped down following the team’s second successive World Cup victory in 2015.

“You can’t just replace those (players) overnight, it takes a while,” Lewsey said.

“That doesn’t mean players coming in aren’t just as exceptional, but bonding a team tends to take five, seven, eight years, for a team to really go for it.”

He added: “If you are going to go down there and have a result, you’re not playing a New Zealand who are right at the peak of their powers, so of course it’s an opportunity.”

Lewsey, 40, started all three Lions Tests on their last tour of New Zealand in 2005, when the visitors were whitewashed 3-0.

He tipped Lions coach Gatland to impose a cohesive style on this year’s composite team drawn from England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales.

“Warren will have a very clear strategy about how he wants to play, and similarly, he will pick players who are most suited to play that style,” Lewsey said.

“If you’ve only got a group of guys for a short period of time, it’s the most effective way of gelling, and to be really clear what you want to do.”

He added that Gatland, a New Zealander, would know all about the strengths and weaknesses of the All Blacks ahead of the tour, which gets underway in June.

Lewsey joked it would hard for the 2017 team to be less successful than their predecessors 12 years ago under former England coach Clive Woodward.

“Perhaps we could have been more specific in terms of how we wanted to play,” he said.

“Because if you look at the teams in ’05, man for man we had a fantastic group of guys, and obviously the Test series spoke for itself in terms of scoreline.

“But I can’t help but feel with the talent we had, we underachieved.”

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