The British and Irish Lions warned that they were not there for second place as they set up this weekend’s first test against the All Blacks with a thumping 34-6 win over the Waikato Chiefs yesterday.
Jack Nowell’s sparkling try double was the highlight as the Lions scored four tries and kept the Chiefs from crossing the line, further building momentum as the opening test looms on Saturday.
While the team to play the All Blacks in Auckland is probably already settled, plenty of the Lions’ second-string – ers put their hands up to feature later in the test series.
Lions captain Rory Best said: “I think we’ve a good squad. “So do the All Blacks, but we feel we need to keep improving.
“It’ll be a tough contest but we’re looking forward to it.”
The result followed Saturday’s convincing win over the Maori All Blacks and ended a sequence of midweek defeats for the Lions, who lost earlier to the Auckland Blues and Otago Highlanders.
They starved the Chiefs of attacking opportunities and Nowell’s second try showed that they can also play with flair, as they took the ball the length of the field and through 10 pairs of hands before the Englishman swerved past two defenders to finish.
Chiefs skipper Stephen Donald said: “I thought they were excellent, full credit to them – they suffocated us and then scored some great tries. “Disappointing in front of a great crowd – we just couldn’t get going.”
It was a potential banana skin for Lions coach Warren Gatland in his home town of Hamilton, which has proved a graveyard for international teams in the past.
Gatland was a hooker for Waikato when they humbled the Lions 38-10 in 1993 – and even scored a try against the team he now coaches.
He was on the other side of the scoreline last year when the Chiefs thrashed his touring Wales side 40-7.
After the Chiefs’ haka in front of the sell-out 30 000 crowd, the Lions made a promising start in clear conditions, going on the attack after Courtney Lawes stole a Chiefs lineout ball.
Winger Nowell dived a pile of bodies to score the first try of the match in the 25th minute after some eye-catching build-up play from Liam Williams and Dan Biggar.
The tourists enjoyed 58% of possession and 63% of territory in the first half, although a penalty from Chiefs skipper Donald narrowed their lead to 13-6 going into the break.
Chiefs heads dropped after Nowell’s slickly taken second try, and Jare d Payne soon added another when Williams caught the defence napping with a quick restart to set him up and confirm the big win