|Highlanders v British and Irish Lions|
|Highlanders (10) 23|
|Tries: Naholo, Coltman Cons: Sopoaga, Banks Pens: Sopoaga 2, Banks|
|British and Irish Lions (10) 22|
|Tries: Joseph, Seymour, Warburton Cons: Biggar 2 Pen: Biggar|
Elliot Daly’s late attempt at a 57-metre match-winning penalty fell just short as the British and Irish Lions lost narrowly to the Highlanders.
Second-half tries from returning captain Sam Warburton and Tommy Seymour looked to have put the Lions in control, before the hosts responded.
Owen Farrell dragged a Lions penalty wide before Marty Banks landed what proved the decisive kick in Dunedin.
It was a second loss in four games for Warren Gatland’s side in New Zealand.
Waisake Naholo’s try had given the hosts a first-half lead, before Jonathan Joseph replied with a converted score.
But Liam Coltman drove over for the Highlanders and Lima Sopoaga added his second penalty after the break to set up the nervy finish.
Gatland made wholesale changes to the side that outfought the Crusaders in a 12-3 win on Saturday, with Warburton looking to prove his fitness after a knee injury.
The Lions coach was forced to replace Courtney Lawes when the lock took a heavy blow to the head in the first half.
The tourists next face the Maori All Blacks on Saturday (08:35 BST) – their fifth of six warm-up matches before the first of three Tests against the All Blacks on 24 June.
Lions improve in attack
The Lions headed into Tuesday’s game having scored just two tries in their opening three fixtures in New Zealand, and were looking to establish their attacking credentials.
Despite failing to show the same resilience in closing out the game as they had against the Crusaders three days earlier, the tourists did outscore the hosts by three tries to two.
Centre Joseph accelerated through a gap from a fine Dan Biggar offload to touch down for their first, with Seymour intercepting a hanging cross-field kick from Sopoaga to dart over after the break.
Outscoring the 2015 Super Rugby champions, who have averaged more than four tries a game this season, is no mean feat, but Warburton’s score ensured Gatland’s men did just that.
Scrum-half Rhys Webb and prop Kyle Sinckler both made threatening breaks, but a touch of inaccuracy and too many dropped passes stopped the Lions adding to their try count.
It was a tale of the kickers in the end, with the normally reliable Farrell pulling his effort wide, and fellow replacement Daly’s kick two minutes from time dropped agonisingly short.
Second string aim to stake claim
Back-rower Warburton was looking to prove his fitness after missing six weeks at the end of the domestic season with a knee injury.
The 28-year-old admitted before the game there was “every chance” he may not be involved in the first Test if he did not impress.
Warburton and his team-mates faced some ferocious Highlanders attack early on, but the Wales forward looked sharp as he crossed in the second half before being replaced with 12 minutes to go.
Tuesday’s game was also an opportunity for those among the Lions’ second string to stake their claims for a starting spot.
The versatile Jared Payne was solid in defence, stopping All Blacks winger Naholo in the opening exchanges from full-back – a position that was expected to be filled by Stuart Hogg before the Scot was ruled out of the tour with a facial injury.
Webb also dished out several big hits and was lively with ball in hand, while half-back partner Biggar proved he is a reliable option at 10.
But the concession of late penalties and position to the Highlanders will worry Gatland, with time running out before the first Test.
Analysis – ‘More cohesive Lions performance’
Former Lions and England wing Ugo Monye
The Lions’ game is starting to look more rounded and all the hard work attack coach Rob Howley has been putting in with the players is starting to pay dividends.
It was an impressive return for Sam Warburton. He played 68 minutes, which he’ll be pleased about, and responded well to a great showing from Sean O’Brien on Saturday. He looked busy in defence and capped his performance with a try early in the second half.
It was a more cohesive Lions performance – there were not too many standout players but it was a good team performance.
Frustrations will be the loss, obviously. This tour is all about winning, but ultimately it is a tour that will be defined by the Test series itself.
However, the amount of individual errors in defence is a concern – there were far too many missed tackles, which prevented the type of continuous pressure with line-speed the Lions produced against the Crusaders.
‘It’s about playing for 80 minutes’ – Gatland
Lions coach Warren Gatland: “We gave away a line-out for their try having cleared our lines. We know we need to be better in those moments to make sure we don’t compound our errors.
“We always said that coming to New Zealand was going to be tough against the Super Rugby sides. They are the best rugby nation in the world.”
Lions captain Sam Warburton: “For one reason or another the penalties got up into double figures. It was a game where it was going to be thrown around a bit more, but our first and second arrivals on the breakdown were a little late.
“We scored a couple of tries, we looked good when we were direct. We are looking forward to the challenge of the New Zealand Maori on Saturday.”
Social media reaction
Lions: Payne; Nowell; Joseph, Henshaw; Seymour; Biggar, Webb; Marler, Best, Sinckler; Lawes, Henderson; Haskell, Warburton (captain), Stander.
Replacements: Owens, McGrath, Cole, Jones, Tipuric, Laidlaw, Farrell, Daly.
Highlanders: Buckman; Naholo, Fekitoa, Walden, Li; Sopoaga, Hammington; Lienert-Brown, Coltman, Tokolahi; Ainley, Hemopo; Hunt, Evans, Whitelock (captain).
Replacements: Pleasants-Tate, Seiuli, Halanukonuka, Dickson, Lentjes, Renton, Banks, Osborne.