Great Britain 8
Job done for Michael Maguire and his Kiwis team — though it was hard work.
New Zealand have clinched a series win over Great Britain, with a 23-8 victory in Christchurch on Saturday.
After seemingly cruising at 20-2 with 32 minutes to play, the Kiwis had to withstand an impressive comeback from the Lions, who threw the kitchen sink at the men in black and white for a prolonged period.
They held firm, with some tough defence, to cap a pleasing fortnight for the Kiwis.
They had earlier showed all of their attacking pomp, with Shaun Johnson at the forefront, as they created constant inroads in the first half.
The result exacts a measure of revenge as well, after losing the series last year in England to essentially the same group of players.
Jared Waerea-Hargreaves was again a standout, along with Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, across an impressive team effort.
From early on it was evident the shackles were off for the Kiwis. After grinding their way to an vital victory last week at Eden Park, following their bumbling effort in Wollongong the week before, there was a sense that the pressure had eased. That allowed New Zealand to play a more expansive game, with off loads and cut-out balls, though all the momentum was created through the dominance in the trenches.
Waerea-Hargreaves was superb, and had already racked up more than 100 running metres within the first half hour. Joseph Tapine was similarly effective, while the returning Brandon Smith gave crisp service to his runners.
Blake Austin, playing out of position on the wing, was targeted early, dropping one Johnson bomb, then being dragged into touch after catching the next one. That led to the Kiwis’ opening try, with Joseph Manu showing remarkable strength to force the ball with three defenders hanging off him, after Johnson had put the centre in a half gap.
After being dropped last week, Johnson had something to prove. His precise kick forced a goal line drop out, and from the resultant attacking set the five eighth stepped his way over after a well worked set move with Benji Marshall. It was vintage Johnson, as he faked outside, then stepped Elliott Whitehead and Jonny Lomax to score.
The Lions threatened some first half inroads, but lacked polish; a promising left edge raid was snuffed out when Jake Connor was bundled over the sideline, while a Smith front on hit forced an error from Thomas Burgess in front of the Kiwis posts, after the Lions had earned three successive penalties.
Great Britain needed to bounce back early in the second half, but instead they conceded the try of the match, with Ken Maumalo soaring over in the corner, following swift hands from Charnze Nicholl-Klokstad and Marshall. It was good reward for the Warriors’ powerhouse, who had created the initiative after a smashing run through the defence.
Just when all seemed lost for the visitors, Josh Hodgson snuck across in the 49th minute, though it was a controversial moment, as Luke Thompson was held for an age, before an offload to his hooker. That lifted the Lions, and the Kiwis got a bit loose and scrappy, with dropped balls and a couple of ineffectual fifth tackle kicks. Lions’ second rower John Bateman was again a standout for his team, though was lucky to avoid a sin binning, after a blatant swinging arm on Maumalo.
The Kiwis repelled a ton of pressure, as the Lions were camped on their line, with two British tries scratched (correctly) by the video referee. A remarkable play by Jamayne Isaako, who escaped from his in goal when it seemed impossible, was crucial, before the winger kicked a late field goal and penalty to seal the match.
New Zealand 23 (J Manu, S Johnson, K Maumalo tries; J Isaako 2 cons, 4 pens, field goal)
Great Britain 8 (J Hodgson try; G Widdop con, pen)