It was premature to write off Gatland's beefy Lions after just two outings

Jack McGrath of the Lions looks dejected after their defeat by the Highlanders at Forsyth Barr Stadium.
David Rogers

Jack McGrath of the Lions looks dejected after their defeat by the Highlanders at Forsyth Barr Stadium.

OPINION: After arriving back from exile over the ditch and having missed the opening two British and Irish Lions tour matches, I expected to see them scuttling back to Blighty.

Every commentator had been writing them off them as dog tucker for the Crusaders.

But, to dismiss the Lions after two games was too soon. Now after four games, we still can't.

On the basis of all the negativity, it occurred to me on Saturday that I might have been better off sticking with Britain's Got Talent, which was screening concurrently.

And yet, the only incompetent during the Lions' win over the Crusaders proved to be the very French referee. His pedantic scrum rulings prompted Andrew Mehrtens to suggest m'sieu might be subbed off at halftime.

He was the same Mathieu Raynal who refereed the All Blacks at Chicago last year, when they were nutted 40-29 by Ireland. So, the less we see of him the better.

I dwell on the Crusaders' match, rather than the Highlanders' victory, because the Lions fielded their shadow test team at Christchurch.

With a truckload of ball, the Lions should have beaten the Crusaders by at least 20, but they have such butterfingers out wide.

These Lions are beefcakes though, and will defensively be a test for the All Blacks in the tests, even if they threaten to put us all to sleep with their kicking.

While the Crusaders are the leading Super Rugby team, they could have lost at least five games this year, winning them at the death. And, they lacked the x-factor dangermen in the backs, which the Blues and Highlanders possessed.

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One of the Crusaders' best on the night was Manawatu captain Heiden Bedwell-Curtis on the flank, as was our Jackson Hemopo and Kayne Hammington for the Highlanders.

The Lions' produced their template for how they will play the All Blacks – Conor Murray booting from the base. In our eyes it is grotesque, but it's how they play up north and if it comes off, they won't care.

The Highlanders, eight men short, beat the Lions on sheer passion and panache on Tuesday and they had All Black Lima Sopoaga gifting kicks to Lions' hands.

The Highlanders, however, did what the Hurricanes and Crusaders didn't at the weekend – take points from penalties – and Marty Banks proved what a clutch player he is.

When a ton is a stun

When the Palmerston North Boys' High School 1st XV was clipped by a ton by Hastings Boys' High School on Saturday, it was only Palmy's second loss of the year.

In 10 games, Hastings have scored about 600 points, so the Palmy lads obviously froze. It was the biggest loss in 115 years of history and everyone was stunned.

I hear Hastings made one knock-on all game while Palmy, whose defence was good enough to beat Wellington College, Auckland Grammar School and Gisborne BHS away, missed 70 tackles.

The other Super 8 schools are shaking in their boots about playing Hastings who, according to those in the know, would win the Hawke's Bay senior club competition. Such supreme teams are not good for our school rugby.

Hastings, to their credit, have come out of some dark spaces. A few years back, they were a scruffy lot who in a six-year stint didn't win a Super 8 game. Then they set up a sports academy.

Now, they have a freak team, including talented Pacific Island boys such as Kini Naholo, who scored five tries and is a younger brother of All Black Waisake.

Last year, Hastings were runners-up nationally and 19 of their 22-man squad returned to school. Expect up to eight to be picked for NZ Schools, including five backs.

Of interest, the Boys' High colts beat Hastings' 50-19.

Laumape is Manawatu's loss

All Blacks selectors keep pinching our best men and leaving the Turbos short.

It's great Ngani Laumape is Manawatu's latest. Wonder how he would have fared had he not been in league with the Warriors for four years.

He was in the Boys' High 1st XV in year 10 as a chunky openside flanker No 8. Later, the Hurricanes' Schools coaches wanted him to be a hooker. He wasn't having a bar of that and when he was overlooked, league came calling and he signed.

He knew he was a second-five and that's where he played the final two seasons for the 1st XV alongside Jason Emery. The pair of them cut up so many teams, only for Laumape to injure his knee at home in the Polson Banner game against Napier.

He did well enough at the Warriors, even when they put him on the wing. When he left for them in 2011, he told me he would be back.

When they tired of each other in 2015 and the Warriors cut him loose a year early, they did each other a favour.

 - Stuff


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