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Disciplined Lions inflict first defeat of 2017 on Crusaders

Strong set-piece and defence key to tourists' success

Anthony Watson makes a break for the Lions in their win over the Crusaders
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Penalty: Mo'unga
Penalties: Farrell 4
Half-time: 3-9

There were no tries in Christchurch but the Lions served notice to the All Blacks and New Zealand that they are on tour to make a mark in the Test series by inflicting a first defeat of the season on Super Rugby leaders Crusaders.

BoyleSports are now biggest at 5-1 about Warren Gatland's men winning the three-match series that starts in Auckland on June 24. most firms make the tourists 4-1 to triumph. And while BoyleSports remain biggest about a 2-1 New Zealand success, spokesperson Liam Glynn reports that their 6-4 about any Lions Test win is proving popular. The All Blacks have been eased to 4-6 for a 3-0 triumph.   

The Lions set-piece was visibly strong against an all-All Black front-five and formed a platform for a direct style of play that gained plenty of territory. Their immense defence and line speed forced a classy Crusaders outfit including Israel Dagg to cough up plenty of possession.

French referee Mathieu Reynal was convinced often enough by this superiority to award several penalties against the Crusaders that relieved pressure and created attacking opportunities, while the tourists were much more disciplined.

Chances were spurned off the few line-breaks the Lions made, through poor passing and basic handling errors, and more of a cutting edge will be required to compete with the back-to-back world champions in the Tests.

However, potent-looking combinations are beginning to be forged and markers are being put down for places in the Test team. 

Front-rowers Mako Vunipola, Jamie George and Tadgh Furlong showed a natural understanding of their roles.

In the engine room, Alun Wyn Jones and George Kruis secured their ball at the line-out, as well as a steal, and had high tackle counts.

Backrowers Taulupe Faletau, Sean O'Brien and Peter O'Mahony made sure that the Crusaders could not boss the breakdown and, in combination with both the starting and reshuffled midfield, they minimised the off-loading in the tackle which was key to the Blues' success against them on Wednesday.

Conor Murray and Owen Farrell dovetailed brilliantly at half-back and Farrell and Johnny Sexton looked like a midfield axis moulded over months on the training pitch.

Liam Williams looked much more assured defensively on the left wing - particularly under the high ball - than he had on Wednesday and three-cap Seta Tamanivalu barely had a sniff of space and the tryline. On the right wing, George North marshalled his opposite number George Bridge into mistakes as well as the touchline.

Replacement full-back Watson fizzed with the ball in hand and suggested another option to Stuart Hogg and Leigh Halfpenny in the 15 shirt.

There will be a Lions injury update on Sunday as well as the naming of the 23 for Tuesday's match with the Highlanders in Dunedin.  In the early handicap betting, the Highlanders get a four-point start with Betfair and Paddy Power.


More of a cutting edge will be required to compete with the back-to-back world champions
E.W. Terms
Sky bet