By Thomas Branston
The Blues produced a dazzling performance to inflict a first defeat of the 2017 tour of New Zealand for the British and Irish Lions with a 22-16 win in torrential conditions at Eden Park.
A sensational Ihaia West try late on secured the Blues a dramatic win for the Auckland based club on Wednesday.
Young winger Reiko Loane opened the scoring before CJ Stander replied scoring from a driving maul and Leigh Halfpenny notched the Lions into a five point lead with a penalty leading up to the break.
But Sonny Bill Williams was quickest to react to a penalty bouncing back off the posts to score and Stephen Perofeta converted to give the Blues a 12-10 half-time lead.
Halfpenny added two more penalties during the second period to give the Lions a narrow lead but West secured the win with a brilliant try.
Warren Gatland’s Lions put in an improved performance from their narrow win over the Provincial Barbarians but it wasn’t enough to stop a Sonny Bill Williams inspired Blues side.
The Lions hadn’t lost a midweek fixture in New Zealand since 1993 where they lost to Hawkes Bay and Waikato and Gatland’s men now have an uphill climb coming up as they face the Crusaders on Saturday.
The Blues worked through the phases early on and opened the scoring in stylish fashion when Perofeta delivered a perfectly weighted ball to Loane who scored in the corner.
Garland’s Lions replied just ten minutes later with a try of their own and only the second try of the tour.
Stander crashed over off the back of a maul and Halfpenny added the conversion to give the Lions a lead.
Halfpenny then slotted a penalty through to extend the Lions lead but the blues responded playing expansive offloading rugby.
With half-time approaching and pressure mounting, Williams was quickest to react after Perofota’s penalty bounced back off the post and the centre dived over beating two Lions to the ball.
The Blues went into the break with a deserving lead in difficult conditions and the game continued that way during the second period.
West extended the Blues’ lead with a penalty before Halfpenny added a further two from his boot to edge the Lions ahead with full-time approaching.
Williams then broke free in the midfield and despite being tackled he produced one of his authentic offloads to West.
And the fly-half showed great speed, agility and balance to race past three Lions defenders to score under the posts to win the game.