Saturday, July 1, 2017

Hurricanes vs. Lions

If you’ve been keeping up with current events, you’ll know that the British & Irish Lions rugby team are currently touring New Zealand. If you haven’t, here is the news…

They’re playing three test matches against the All Blacks, and in between they’re playing a number of other New Zealand sides. They have fixtures against the 5 New Zealand Super Rugby sides (that’s Blues, Chiefs, Crusaders, Highlanders and Hurricanes, in case you don’t know) as well as the Provincial Barbarians and Māori All Blacks. Whilst they were solidly beaten by the All Blacks last weekend, their record against the provincial teams has been somewhat better. It must be noted that both sides are fielding a less-than-full-strength team for these matches, as the All Blacks who normally play for them are mostly excluded, and the Lions are giving some of their second-string players a run out (the Lions squad numbers 49 players, so they’ve plenty to spare).

This week, the party comes to Wellington, with two games: one against the Hurricanes on Tuesday, and one against the All Blacks on Saturday. We scored tickets to the Hurricanes match. After work, I headed up the road to the stadium so that we could get in early and avail ourselves of the catering at the stadium. In response to customer demand, they have now improved the options from the previous pies/burgers/fish’n’chips with Tui beer, and now have a slightly classier mezzanine bar that serves a better class of take-away food, and also some halfway decent beers on tap. Sounds good, yes? When we got there…closed for a private function. If we’d known that we’d have gone somewhere else first. Nul points, Westpac Stadium.

We feasted on fish’n’chips and burgers, washed down with Steinlager.

The expected chilliness of a clear night failed to materialise, so we weren’t too cold – didn’t need hats and gloves. We were up in the gods at the Southern end, right behind the goalposts. The stadium management had maximised their revenue by providing more seating in areas usually unoccupied – the walkways around the top of the stadium, and on the pitch itself. So a full crowd of what turned out to be 38,690 people attended. A lot of them were wearing red, and they were very vocal.

So, to the match. The Hurricanes were beaten in the first half, as the Lions took full advantage of a couple of lucky breaks and bounces, and also collected points from penalties in the way that New Zealand clubs rarely do (penalties usually being seen as opportunities to get into a try-scoring position, rather than kicking for goal). Handling errors and a couple of turnovers were the pivotal points of the first half, and the Canes failed to capitalise on their position when they were in the 22.

But it’s a game of two halves, and the Canes came out roaring with a  try in the first minute of the second half. Further tries followed and although the Lions managed another try and penalty, the second half definitely belonged to the Canes. There were two yellow-card incidents – one per team – which stretched the teams and led to most of the point-scoring opportunities. In the final few minutes they were tied at 31-31, the was clock ticking down, the Canes were in the Lions’ 22 and going forward. Jordie Barrett was waiting in the pocket for the drop-goal pass to come back…but it never did, as they were unable to get clean ball back to him. The moves eventually broke down, and play moved up to the Canes’ 22, where the Lions tried exactly the same thing. The ball came back to Halfpenny, he went for the drop-goal…and missed. The Canes tried to keep the ball alive but it went back beyond the dead-ball line. Game over. Not with a bang, but with a whimper. The match was tied – an unlikely result, but probably one that the Canes would be happy with after their first half. The moral victory also goes to the Canes as they scored 4 tries to the Lions’ 3.

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