History Making Blues Defeat the Touring British and Irish Lions

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What an honour it was for the Blues Super Rugby team. The very first franchise to face the touring British and Irish Lions, and somehow they managed to create even more history in beating the tourists 22-16.

In a massive game, the Blues created a piece of history as Ihaia West ran 30 metres to score a famous try. His effort encapsulated the teams total effort. They held the advantage all game, and with Sonny Bill Williams and Rieko Ioane crossing, the onus now falls entirely on the tourists to reach the ‘higher level’ of New Zealand rugby.

Captain James Parsons spoke of redemption post-match, and he and his teammates did a fantastic job in defeating the touring British and Irish Lions side three tries to one.

“Pretty special. A big occasion for the club.”

The Blues skipper, who has not had an ‘on and off’ season, felt an extra special significance with the result. “We owe our fans something. I thought we kicked better in the second half, and the boys did a lot of hard work to make those moments.”

While his teammates embraced, Parson received a ceremonial tiaha, a maori weapon that signifies the culture and pride of the Auckland side. He spoke to the camera of how crucial the Steven Luatua and Williams offloads in the tackle, that set-up West to score, were game making. “We took our opportunities better. We did something special.”

Blues  22 – Tries: Ioane, Williams, West; Conversions: Perofeta, West; Penalty: West

Lions  16 – Try: Stander; Con: Halfpenny; Pen: Halfpenny (3)

In front of the largest crowd to grace a Blues game for a very, very long time, the tourists brought their fans with them. The visual display was evident as the crowds poured into Eden Park. There were fans wearing red as far as the eye could see–it was fantastic. The Blue v Red imagery was amazing in HD. Although with the weather closing in, it did put a damper on the spectacle.

What it did not damper, was the New Zealand rugby attitude. Attack first, ask questions later. And while the Lions ‘asked questions of the home side’ they were ineffective. While their ranks included full Internationals, against a very spirited Blues side, the hosts added to the proud record that Auckland hold over the touring British and Irish Lions.

While the blue and white was replaced by the more ‘corporate colours’ of the 2017 Blues, the heart (to the sides credit) stayed. It was not a simple match on the schedule of the Lions, the Blues really challenged to visitors. They played with the ‘x factor’ of the Southern Hemisphere, and they were tremendous. That began with a step away from the usual Super Rugby pre-game fare.

With so much on the line, it required something special. It required a touch of class, recognition of team history and gladly, the Blues made sure they laid down a marker for all other franchises to follow.

Super Rugby history made by the Auckland Franchise

The Blues were not the first Super Rugby team to play an International team. But they are in the rugby almanac now, as the first professional rugby team in New Zealand to play the Lions side. That will now be usurped by a victory, and it will be a great story for the grand kids.

And with more to win than lose–the Blues had their season chances ended by the Chiefs draw–they entered this game with that ‘leave it all on the park’ mentally. And as their coach Tana Umaga found, his men found that extra gear tonight.

“I’m proud. They got through those challenging moments and they are gonna be better players for this experience.”

With what appeared to be a tear in his eye, Umaga spoke of how he was proud to send-off two players–Charlie Faumuina and Luatua–and he said that he was proud of the group. Satisfied they got over the line, he said it would great to play well in front of the home crowd.

He spoke of how they ‘got there in the end’. And it was a battle. The Lions are a uniques side, and threatened right up to the end, but the Blues ability to score tries added crucial points that meant they won 22-16 in a history making result.

Touring British and Irish Lions had aimed to build momentum

Touring British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland had noted the importance of this match, on the tour schedule. He told SkySport “Hopefully these guys can get us back on track, on momentum. It’s all about the test series, and you want to win every game to achieve that”. Unfortunately, he will now face a drop in momentum.

Warren Gatland the head coach of the British & Irish Lions looks on prior to kickoff during the 2017 British & Irish Lions tour match between the Blues and the British & Irish Lions at Eden Park. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

“With our confidence and momentum, you want to win every [tour] game. We know these games are going to be incredibly tough.”

After seeing his team lose this fixture, Gatland and his coaching group may well feel a 100% increase in scrutiny. Rightly or wrongly, the questions on the group will ramp-up in the press conference. And the Lions made less offloads, made less breaks and had a torrid time.

“There was definitely a step-up. Scrummaged well, line outs were pretty good but when you play New Zealand teams they offload, and our defense has to react better. I honestly think that this is gonna be great preparation for us. I don’t believe there will be that much difference between Super Rugby and the All Blacks. Because there is so much depth in this country.”

Sonny Bill Williams excellent in Blues return

For the Blues players, some were auditioning for an All Blacks call-up. With the 35 man squad due to be announced on Thursday June 8, players like Sonny Bill Williams know that they have to always be sure in their play. He was better then his Super Rugby form offered, and if the SBW myth is to be believed, he ‘stands up on the big occasions’.

The final exhibition of his total game was not only his try. But it was in the 75th minute when he took an inside ball from Steven Luatua. Running hard, Sonny Bill then presented a great ball for West, and the rest is history. Wonderful touches, and he made the most of his moment.

Rieko Ioane impresses with early try

The young All Black had another good performance. He was [some might say] denied a second try, but in scoring he did a tremendous job in marking his name in the All Blacks ledger. The versatile outside back was on fire early, crossing within the first ten minutes. He benefited from the early energy of the Blues.

The Lions back line has been under the pump since they set foot on the Auckland Airport tarmac. The impressive Jack Nowell tried his best, but many of the Lions were not good enough. And they will regret not completing the final set-piece, losing the attacking lineout on the Blues line.

It summed up the result. The Lions were close, but not close enough to New Zealand rugby. Super Rugby–after 15 rounds–is far superior to provincial rugby. And if Warren Gatland had the final decision on accepting the schedule to include five Super Rugby fixtures, then he had better get his team in the right mindset to ‘play them’.

If the Lions go into Saturday’s clash against the Crusaders in a flux, without an agreed direction and class of International players; that they hold, then it will be a very long tour. The saturday night game will be the real test against the top-rated Super Rugby side.

But, take nothing away from the Blues. Congratulations, and they can now enter 2018 with heads held high.

“Main photo credit”