AUCKLAND • The British & Irish Lions suffered the first defeat of their 10-match New Zealand tour after slipping to a disappointing 16-22 loss to the Auckland Blues at Eden Park yesterday.
A stunning 74th-minute try by fly-half Ihaia West ultimately proved the difference as the Lions paid the price for their failure to convert a number of first-half scoring chances.
The Lions, however, put in a much-improved better performance than in their opening 13-7 victory over the semi-professionals of the Provincial Barbarians last Saturday but it was all undone by a few moments of magic from two All Blacks and a replacement back.
Just as the tourists looked to have seized the momentum with a 16-15 lead over the Super Rugby side, West put on the afterburners to race to the line after being set free by offloads from Steven Luatua and Sonny Bill Williams.
"That's why Steven and Sonny are All Blacks because they did something special and we know how quick Ihaia is off the bench," said Blues skipper James Parsons.
"It's pretty special, it's something to hang our hat on."
Lions captain Ken Owens rued his side's loss but gave credit to the Blues.
"Hugely disappointed, we came here to build on Saturday's performance, we got a good victory up in Whangarei, and we came here to get another win but unfortunately we've got a defeat," he said.
"All credit to the Blues, they took their chances, I think we're going to have to tidy up slightly on our discipline and be a little bit more clinical."
Winger Rieko Ioane and centre Williams also scored first-half tries for the Blues, while starting fly-half Stephen Perofeta added a conversion. West slotted a penalty and then converted his own try.
For the visitors, No. 8 C.J. Stander scored a try with full-back Leigh Halfpenny slotting the conversion and three penalties for the Lions, who next face the seven-time Super Rugby champions Canterbury Crusaders in Christchurch on Saturday.
"We've got to jump straight back on the horse, big game down in Christchurch on Saturday," Owen added.
"We need to get the tour back on track and build some more momentum."
THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS