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Honours even between Lions and Hurricanes

27 June 2017

Bath Rugby’s Jonathan Joseph was part of a British and Irish Lions side who had to settle for a dramatic 31-31 draw with the Hurricanes in Wellington on Tuesday.

After defeat at Eden Park last weekend, this had looked like being an impressive win for the tourists before Saturday’s second Test when Seymour and George North both crossed in a clinical first-half display.

But the Lions had not had it all their own way, Callum Gibbins and Ngani Laumape both crossing for the home side either side of the break.

However, Seymour’s second before the hour-mark – with Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi in the sin-bin – looked like being enough allied to Dan Biggar’s 16-point haul from the tee.

But the reigning Super Rugby champions came storming back in the final quarter when the otherwise impressive Iain Henderson saw yellow

And tries from Wes Goosen and All Black Vaea Fifita earned a share of the spoils in front of a raucous Westpac crowd as Biggar’s late drop goal fell short.

Head Coach Warren Gatland had made it clear all week that Test spots were still up for grabs and Jack Nowell – beginning the game at full back – looked keen to make an impression, getting his hands on the ball early and often in what was otherwise a scrappy start to the game.

The Lions front row – with 232 international caps between them – were also catching the eye in the opening exchanges, winning a free-kick and then a penalty from the first two scrums.

And when a lineout maul took the Lions into the Canes 22, the hosts went offside and Biggar slotted the tourists in front.

Henderson and Courtney Lawes were also impressing with a number of bustling carries, but the first Lions try actually came from their first period defending in their own 22 and it was Seymour who started and finished it.

The ball was spun right by the hosts but the Scotland winger made an enormous hit to disrupt an offload, the loose ball was snapped up by Greig Laidlaw and the scrum half burst clear before hitting his winger in stride with an offload from the deck that took Seymour clear under the posts untouched.

With Biggar’s simple conversion the Lions were 10-0 up with 20 minutes played – the only disappointment being an injury to Robbie Henshaw that brought Leigh Halfpenny on early as North slid into midfield with Nowell now on the wing.

The backline re-shuffle – with Halfpenny only a late call-up to the bench in the first place for Jared Payne – did little to unsettle the Lions however, and when Jonathan Joseph was tackled in the air Biggar banged over another penalty from near halfway to make it 13-0.

That lead probably flattered the tourists a little and the Hurricanes soon mustered a deserved response, Laumape with the initial bust before Glasgow-bound flanker Gibbins squeezed over from close range.

Jordie Barrett added the extras to make it 13-7 but the Lions hit back immediately when Ben May obstructed the restart, leaving Biggar a simple penalty to make it a nine-point lead.

And it got even better before the interval, Biggar launching an up and under that caused confusion and Henderson showed deft hands to release North to race clear.

Biggar added the extras to make it 23-7 and that was how it stayed until the break, although Julian Savea did make his first big carry of the evening to leave the Lions hanging on at the interval.

And in the second period the All Black winger picked up where he had left off, lovely interplay between him and Vince Aso releasing Laumape down the right and the centre – who has 14 tries in 14 games in Super Rugby this season – did the rest.

Barrett added the extras to reduce the Lions lead to 23-14 but Barrett then missed a long-range penalty that would have trimmed the Lions lead further.

Biggar then returned but it was the Canes still coming, another Barrett penalty in the 50th minute making it a one-score game at 23-17.

But then came what appeared to be the game’s decisive moment, Henderson’s chargedown establishing superb territory in the Canes 22 and when Tahuriorangi saw yellow for a high tackle, Biggar slotted the penalty and the Lions were 26-17 up and a man to the good.

A third try looked likely to follow shortly after and while Henderson was denied by the TMO – it was only a brief stay of execution as Seymour slid over down the left after good hands from Nowell and Halfpenny worked him clear.

George Kruis was now on for Courtney Lawes but Biggar’s conversion drifted wide and the Canes had a sliver of hope at 31-17.

The Lions thought they had a fourth when North dabbed down Joseph’s cute grubber after the hour-mark but his foot was just in touch and the Canes survived.

And when Henderson blotted an otherwise flawless copybook with a yellow card for a clear-out at a ruck, the momentum was back with the hosts and Goosen ghosted over down the right soon after.

Barrett’s extras meant it was back to a one-score game at 31-24 and soon after they had their fourth, Fifita bursting over from close range under the posts and when Barrett slotted the extras the game was level.

Halfpenny then spilled a bomb and the Canes were rampant in searching for the winning score in the closing moments, but the Lions fronted up manfully in defence and could have won it before Biggar’s drop kick fell short.

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