The Lions’ hopes of victory in Dunedin were thwarted by the cool head of Southern legend Marty Banks, who kicked a clutch penalty to eke out a nail-biting 23-22 win.
In a dynamic, free-flowing game, which players stood out above the rest to move into Test consideration?
15. Jared Payne 6
Excellent cover tackle to stop Naholo early in first half . A few half chances but his hands let him down. Very busy covering Highlanders’ chips and grubbers behind the Lions’ defensive line. Would Mike Brown have made more impact?
14. Jack Nowell 5.5
Tevita Li created havoc down his wing. Not as much to blame as against the Blues, but still outshone by his opposite. A little busier second half but not much impact on attack.
13. Jonathan Joseph 7.5
A mixed bag. A few defensive lapses with misses on Fekitoa and Naholo but easily the Lions’ most dangerous back with his elusive footwork and speed. Good try in the first half and must be close to first team selection if he can address his defensive lapses.
12. Robbie Henshaw 6.5
Solid on defence. Important turnover thwarting rampaging Highlanders attack in second half. Not sighted much on attack.
11. Tommy Seymour 6.5
Had a difficult night marking power machine Naholo, redeemed himself somewhat with brilliant anticipation to intercept cross kick and score a runaway try.
10. Dan Biggar 6.5
Good, tough game. Looked confident and accurate. Subbed by Owen Farrell (6.5) who missed a crucial penalty with his first touch and made some good switches of play as the Lions looked to steal the game late.
9. Rhys Webb 8
Busy, high tempo game. Made some electric line breaks and excellent cover defence. His kicking game was good but without Conor Murray’s pinpoint precision. Beat five defenders and made 54 running metres. Team MVP.
8. CJ Stander 7.5
Driven backwards in first half, made much more ground in second half with some big turnovers and drives. Game high 20 carries, ten tackles and 41 metres gained.
7. Sam Warburton 6.5
Quiet first half but really burst to life in second, highlighted by try and good turnover.
6. James Haskell 6
Solid and busy tackling with game high ten tackles alongside Stander, without much impact on attack throughout the game.
5. Iain Henderson 7.5
Very strong game. Excellent driving runs over gainline throughout the match and had eight strong tackles completed.
4. Courtney Lawes 6
Looked in fine form until he received a nasty accidental head knock from Naholo en route to the tryline. Replaced by Alun Wyn Jones (6) after 26 minutes. Wyn Jones was strong on the tackle and maul but not as impactful in his drives as Henderson.
3. Joe Marler 6
Solid scrummaging and involvement in the tight. Only one run with the ball in hand. The disintegration of the Lions scrum after starting selection subbed was noticeable.
2. Rory Best 6
Industrious around the field without much involvement on the ball. Accurate in lineout throws.
1. Kyle Sinckler 7
Big first 30 minutes, highlighted by massive bursts through the line. Bad lapse in discipline cost his side a penalty and was subbed after that. He’s a huge talent but a little erratic in discipline and execution and Mako Vunipola still has inside running on the Test position.
15. Richard Buckman 7
Classy touches throughout the game. Very accurate in tackling and insertions into backline. Great hands with passing and solid in the air, particularly on offence in second half.
14. Waisake Naholo 8
Electric start when he stood up the defence and then went within inches of the line after collecting a Sopoaga grubber. Outstanding first half capped by busting two tackles to the tryline. A little quieter in second half when play didn’t find him as often. Nevertheless, the world-class first half earns him Team MVP.
13. Malakai Fekitoa 6
A real topsy-turvy game. Some big busts on attack but poor option taking when he blew a two-man overlap to go himself in the first half and then a poor defensive read on defence to leave Joseph in the clear for his try. Perhaps too keen to prove a point to Steve Hansen.
12. Teihorangi Walden 6.5
Very consistent game from the inexperienced midfielder. Accurate passing under pressure and was a solid link player to the Highlanders’ backline.
11. Tevita Li 7.5
Wreaked havoc on the left wing as the Highlanders found a vulnerable channel to attack in first half. Powerful and pacy on the ball with game high 104 metres run among all players, including two clean breaks, two offloads at speed and beat three defenders.
10. Lima Sopoaga 6
Another fringe All Black who perhaps tried too hard to shine. Began with a real swagger with dinky chip kicks, grubbers and cross-kicks, but perhaps overplayed his hand as the Lions began to predict his plays. Tommy Seymour’s try off his cross-kick was a direct result of this over-ambitious pattern. His place-kicking also seemed a touch nervy. Marty Banks (7.5) really settled the ship when he came on, giving direction to the backline and kicking two clutch match-winning penalties. The legend grows.
9. Kayne Hammington 6.5
Some big shoes to fill, but Hammington provided speedy service throughout the game. Some good tackling, but his lightweight frame couldn’t stop Warburton in his try.
8. Luke Whitelock (c) 7.5
An incredible 18 tackles from the workhorse captain. Strong in the lineout and drives at breakdown but not as much impact on attack. Excellent inspirational leadership with some big calls on penalty kicks. Must be in the All Black selectors’ minds if injuries occur in their back row.
7. Dillon Hunt 6
Barely sighted with ball in hand but strong defence with nine completed tackles.
6. Gareth Evans 7.5
Big game from an underrated player. Bruising runs and strong attacking instinct.
5. Jackson Hemopo 7
A big game from a very inexperienced player. Excellent tackling workrate, with 13 for the game, and strong involvement in mauls, including a crucial turnover in the second half.
4. Alex Ainley 7
Another workhorse in the tackling and the tight, with eleven completed tackles and only one miss. Good in the few lineouts in the game.
3. Siate Tokolahi 6.5
Stood up well to the more vaunted opposition in the scrums. Good mobility around the field.
2. Liam Coltman 7.5
Excellent, accurate game. Showed why he is in the All Blacks extended squad. Found his lineout jumpers well and got his hands on the ball consistently to carry on the Highlanders’ attack.
1. Daniel Lienert-Brown 7
Solid, with a few classy touches to remind us of his All Black brother.
Kaal Kaczmarek, Pundit Arena
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