The Lions vs Hurricanes mid-week fixture has been overshadowed by recent New Zealand sporting accomplishments.
A hard fought test victory in favour of the All Blacks and an incredible America’s Cup victory to Emirates Team New Zealand outshone a game which had so much significance for all involved.
Despite expectation, the game appeared to be over by half-time, as the defending Super Rugby champions trailed a team made up of some of the world’s best, by 23 points to 7 at the break. The game looked to be over, with the Hurricanes needing to put in a tremendous performance in the second half. Despite a few hiccups throughout the half, the ‘Canes didn’t disappoint the 39,000 fans who watched anxiously at a sold-out Westpac Stadium. They fought back to earn a respectful 31 all draw.
For players in black and red alike, this game was massive. For some of the Lions players, it meant one shot at fulfilling childhood ambitions of becoming a test Lion. Some honestly stated their cases, whereas others can expect to sit the remainder of the tour out. Same for the Hurricanes players, with a number of All Blacks and prospects playing for future test jerseys. The four listed below arguably had the most to prove.
Point to Prove
With an injury to Inside Centre Robbie Henshaw occurring early, North was forced to move to the centres. From there, he showcased his versatility, and also his skill. His hard running, pace off the mark and solid defence no doubt caught the eye of coach Warren Gatland. However, the two test wingers from last week, Elliot Daly and Anthony Watson both also performed, therefore, making it difficult for North to force his way into the team. With his proven ability to cover at centre, which he has also done for Wales on multiple occasions, we might expect to see North selected on the bench for the test side in jersey 23. However, fullback Jack Nowell has also stated a claim for that shirt.
Halfpenny was part of the team that lost the test last weekend, running on in the dying stages in jersey 23. In the match against the Hurricanes, he had a point to prove. He was a late addition due to Jarryd Payne withdrawing because of injury. With an early injury to Robbie Henshaw, it was Leigh’s time to prove himself. Overall, he was luckless. He couldn’t get himself involved in the game, but when he did, he often panicked and made an error. His heroics in the 2013 British and Irish Lions Tour to Australia mean nothing here. All that has to be forgotten, and Gatland has to make the smart decision in dropping Halfpenny. If he isn’t in your starting XV, then he shouldn’t be in the squad due to his inability to really make an impact. He proved that last night.
Was subbed off in the 54th minute. For a player who has been such as a menace in both attack and defence, logically, this can only mean one thing. Expect his selection in the test team, potentially in the starting 15.
Savea has been the All Blacks go to ‘big man’ winger since his debut in 2012. However, after his exclusion from the test side to take on the Lions, he was on the outer. He had a point to prove against the Lions, but simply, failed to do so. Despite contributing significantly to the try of Ngani Laumape, the rest of his game was weak. He was stopped far too easily in attack and again went missing under the high ball. Is it fair to say that that’s the last we will see of Julian Savea on this Lions Tour? I think so.
46 players went to Westpac Stadium on Tuesday night, with a point to prove. Those listed above were among those who either shone or let themselves down under the pressure they faced compared to others. With both sides naming their test sides on Thursday, be aware of the significance of the final mid-week fixture, especially for the Lions.
Author: Finn Morton
To say I’m obsessed with sport is an understatement. It was due to this passion that I realised a career in sports journalism was the way to go. I’m looking to spread my passion for sport whilst gaining some valuable experience.