Henshaw tour in jeopardy as Lions forced to settle for draw with Hurricanes
The Lions’ dirt-trackers signed off with a hard-fought, entertaining draw in Wellington as they weathered the Hurricanes’ late storm.
Fourteen points up in the final quarter, they appeared to be in control of their final midweek game until Iain Henderson was deservedly sin-binned and Warren Gatland refused to bring on any of his call-ups to help the visibly tiring starting players.
The home side almost made him regret that decision, but having drawn level with two quick tries they couldn’t get the final score they needed.
So, the tourists finished their midweek schedule just one win form four and with Robbie Henshaw in danger of missing the rest of the tour as a result of the shoulder injury he picked up midway through the first-half.
Courtney Lawes’ early withdrawal suggests he might be involved in the weekend’s second Test, but otherwise there was little to suggest any of these players will be back on the turf at Wellington’s Cake Tin on Saturday.
Dan Biggar opened the scoring with a 10th minute penalty after an opening period that saw both sides feeling each other out in front of a noisy 38,690-strong crowd.
The Lions looked to build on that score after Vince Aso strayed offside, but Biggar didn’t get as much out of his line-kick as he should have and some pretty average attacking play saw the home side turn the ball over without much fuss.
The home side went on the attack, but their good work was undone by a loose pass from Otere Black fell at the feet of Greig Laidlaw who raced from within his own half. Aso caught him, but the Scotland scrum-half popped the ball up to Tommy Seymour who ran in under the posts.
Dan Biggar made it 10-0, before doing well to beat Aso to a Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi kick ahead as the Lions rejigged their backline after Henshaw was forced off with a shoulder injury.
With George North switching into the centre and Leigh Halfpenny at full-back, the tourists added to their lead with a long-range Biggar penalty.
The Hurricanes’ attack was finding holes, Black’s brilliant off-load released Ngani Laumape, but the centre opted not to pass and Vaea Fifita’s loose pass led to another turnover and another chance passing them by.
The score was coming though and it eventually arrived when Callum Gibbins forced his way through Laidlaw and Rory Best from close range and Jordi Barrett converted.
They handed the Lions an immediate chance to extend their lead when Ben May blocked Laidlaw and Biggar duly obliged and there was further cause for celebration before half-time as Nehe Milner-Skudder failed to deal with an up-and-under from the Welsh out-half under pressure from Leigh Halfpenny, Henderson scooped it up to the on-rushing North who scored his first try of the tour.
James Haskell handed Barrett a chance to narrow the gap before half-time, but the younger brother of All Blacks Beauden and Scott went for touch instead. Despite two attempts at the maul, they couldn’t get over the line and finished the half 23-7 behind.
They opened the second-half in sensational style, exploiting the advantage when Justin Tipuric went offside with a cleverly worked back move that had the Lions in disarray.
Aso’s inside pass four Savea and he put Ngani Laumape over in the corner with Biggar suffering a head injury trying to stop him.
He went off as Barrett converted, as Finn Russell became a Lion but the Scotland out-half’s first act was to knock the ball on and when Dan Cole collapsed the scrum but Barrett missed the chance to close the gap to six points.
Biggar returned having passed his test but Barrett made no mistake when Seymour strayed offside as the tide appeared to turn in the home side’s favour.
It swung back in the Lions’ direction thanks to the intervention of Iain Henderson who brilliantly blocked Tahuriorangi’s box-kick and surged into the Hurricanes’ ’22. The scrum-half then saw yellow for a high tackle and Biggar restored his side’s lead.
Henderson was to the forefront of all of the Lions’ good play and he almost scored the try that pushed the tourists further in front, first rampaging into the ‘Canes’ ’22, before then forcing his way over from close range without grounding the ball.
Not that it deterred the Lions who rescued a struggling scrum and stretched the home side out right before moving it left where they had numbers up and Seymour went over in the corner.
Biggar missed the conversion, but the damage was done and by the time the home team’s scrum-half re-appeared the gap was 14 points.
North almost made it 19, but he trod on the touchline en route to scoring and Henderson saw yellow for a up-turning Barrett at a ruck with the help of Joseph in an incident reminiscent of the 2005 spear-tackle that ended Brian O’Driscoll’s first Test.
The young full-back thankfully emerged unscathed and his side went in search of a score to bring them back into the game and he contributed handsomely to that score, throwing a brilliant cut-out pass to Wes Goosen who crossed in the corner.
Barrett converted and with the Lions tiring and Warren Gatland refusing to bring on any of his replacements on the home side drew level with a show of power under the posts as Fifita crashed over from close range after a series of strong carries.
Barrett levelled matters from beneath the sticks and when Leigh Halfpenny dropped the kind of catch he normally fields in his sleep the home side went for the jugular.
They pounded the visitors’ line, but lacked composure at a critical moment and knocked on, with the scrum being upgraded to a penalty for a Laumape neck-roll that allowed the Lions some breathing space.
The tourists finished pushing for a win, but Biggar’s long-range drop-goal attempt was never on track and both sides had to settle for the draw.
HURRICANES – J Barrett; N Milner-Skudder, V Aso, N Laumape, J Savea (C Jane 69); O Black (W Goosen 62), TT Tahuriorangi (K Hauiti-Parapara 69); B May (C Eves 57), R Riccitelli (L Apisai 62), J Toomaga-Allen (M Kainga); M Abbott, S Lousi; V Fifita, C Gibbins, B Shields (capt) (R Prinsep 58).
LIONS – J Nowell; T Seymour, J Joseph, R Henshaw (L Halfpenny 20), G North; D Biggar (F Russell 43-48), G Laidlaw; J Marler, R Best (capt), D Cole; I Henderson, C Lawes; J Haskell, J Tipuric, CJ Stander.
Referee: R Poite (France)
Ruaidhri O'Connor in Wellington