British and Irish Lions beaten 22-16 by Blues in Auckland
|British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand|
|Blues (12) 22|
|Tries: R Ioane, Williams, West Cons: Perofeta, West Pen: West|
|British and Irish Lions (10) 16|
|Try: Stander Con: Halfpenny Pens: Halfpenny 3|
The British and Irish Lions suffered the first defeat of their 2017 tour of New Zealand after a dazzling late Ihaia West try gave the Blues victory.
A third Leigh Halfpenny penalty had put the Lions back in front with 10 minutes to play but West finished off a fine move that featured two superb offloads for the winning score in Auckland.
Earlier, Blues winger Rieko Ioane had opened the scoring with an emphatic finish before the Lions edged ahead through CJ Stander's converted try and a Halfpenny penalty.
But Sonny Bill Williams' converted score after a penalty came back off the posts gave the Blues the half-time lead, and set up a dramatic second period.
Warren Gatland's Lions had stuttered to a 13-7 victory over the Provincial Barbarians in their tour opener on Saturday, and they faced a sterner test in Auckland, albeit against supposedly the weakest of the New Zealand franchises.
However, the Blues always looked dangerous with the ball in hand, and despite spells when the power of the Lions gave them the ascendancy, West's winning try always looked on the cards.
The Lions now face Crusaders on Saturday (kick-off 08:35 BST), with their first Test against New Zealand on 24 June.
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The Blues turn on the style
While the Lions' first opponents on the tour were made up of fringe players from Super Rugby, the Blues are an established team and their pace and attacking style - despite wet conditions - ultimately proved too much for the tourists to handle.
Jack Nowell was given a torrid time on the wing by Ioane, who darted over in the corner for the opening try and went over twice more, only for the TMO to deny him both times - once for offside and once for a foot in touch.
The Blues claimed the half-time lead when the quick reactions of Williams saw him touch down with one hand - the try given after prolonged deliberation between the officials and TMO.
Stephen Perofeta's penalty had bounced off the upright and back into play. TJ Faiane and Nowell leapt for the ball and it was decided the Lions wing had knocked the ball back under his own posts, rather than the Kiwi knocking on, allowing Williams' effort to stand.
And they saved the best until last when Williams, who had taken a neat offload from Steven Luatua, offloaded the ball from the back of his hand to an onrushing West, who sailed past the Lions defence and crossed under the posts.
Positives for the Lions?
Although Gatland's side could not match the Blues' attacking prowess, they did show power up front, especially at the scrum.
They also scored from a driving maul to initially peg back the hosts when, having kicked two penalties to the corner, Stander drove over from a line-out.
They managed to win the 10-minute period when they only had 14 men on the field, after Liam Williams was sin-binned for making contact with Matt Duffie in the air twice in quick succession, with Halfpenny's boot accounting for the only three points scored.
And they bulldozed the Blues scrum backwards for a penalty with 10 minutes to go to enable Halfpenny, from 40 metres out, to edge his side 16-15 ahead.
But it was the hosts who showed the greater attacking threat, and the final piece of Blues magic not only won the game but also showed the scale of the task facing the tourists not just in the three Tests against the world champion All Blacks, but also against the other four Super Rugby teams they have to face.
Analysis - 'The impact of the loss cannot be underestimated'
Former Lions and England winger Ugo Monye
"A tough tour just got tougher. The impact of the Lions losing to the Blues cannot be underestimated.
"Winning is everything on these tours but a performance was a bare minimum. Unfortunately, and more so in the second half, we didn't get either.
"Congratulations to the Auckland Blues on a fantastic game - a once in a lifetime opportunity was grabbed with both hands.
"Under the tutelage of Tana Umaga we should've expected their team to be emotionally on the edge, well-drilled and powerful. They were all those things.
"Saturday's game, against the best franchise of the era in the Crusaders, is a must-win. Not quite panic stations but the Lions need to get this tour back on track in Canterbury."
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The views of the captains
Lions captain Ken Owens: "You are coming on a Lions tour, and you want to win every game. Unfortunately, we haven't done that, and we are going to have be harsh on ourselves, pick up where we lost the game and really analyse it."
Blues skipper James Parsons: "It is something I am going to savour. I am extremely proud of the effort, not only the leadership group, but the young fellas as well."
Lions bemoan indiscipline
Lions boss Warren Gatland: "The big message from [defence coach] Andy Farrell to the players was the penalty count. The first two games we have been a bit soft in that area and we've got to tighten up on that."
"It was a moment of magic that won the game tonight, but we've got to be better at stopping that offloading game.
"We're still not as fresh as we will be in a few weeks, to make sure that when we face the All Blacks we'll be strong in those areas."
Blues: Michael Collins, Matt Duffie, George Moala, Sonny Bill Williams, Rieko Ioane, Stephen Perofeta, Augustine Pulu; Ofa Tu'ungafasi, James Parsons (capt), Charlie Faumuina, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Scott Scrafton, Akira Ioane, Blake Gibson, Steven Luatua.
Replacements: Hame Faiva, Alex Hodgman, Sione Mafileo, Patrick Tuipulotu, Kara Pryor, Sam Nock, Ihaia West, TJ Faiane.
Lions: Leigh Halfpenny; Jack Nowell, Jared Payne, Robbie Henshaw, Elliot Daly; Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb; Jack McGrath, Ken Owens (captain), Dan Cole, Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes, James Haskell, Justin Tipuric, CJ Stander.
Replacements: Rory Best, Joe Marler, Kyle Sinckler, Iain Henderson, Peter O'Mahony, Grieg Laidlaw, Johnny Sexton, Liam Williams.