Five things we’ve learnt from the Highlanders’ 23-22 win over the British and Irish Lions

By Thomas Branston

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1 | The British and Irish Lions were succumbed to an agonisingly close defeat in Dunedin. The side learned some hard truths in their narrow defeat to the Highlanders, however there were many positives to take from their improved performance.

The likes of Kyle Sinckler, Jared Payne, Robbie Henshaw, Dan Biggar, Jonathan Joseph and Tommy Seymour all had stand-out performances in the red jersey. The set-piece was improved but it was at the breakdown where this side fell short of success as they threw away a nine-point lead.

2 | A huge number of missed tackles played its part in an open attacking game on Tuesday. The Lions lack of defensive structure fed the brilliance of the Highlanders and allowed them to play a Super Rugby style of game.

A theme that has followed the British and Irish Lions throughout their tour so far has been their lack of discipline. In key moments against the Super Rugby outfit handed Lima Sopoaga and Marty Banks easy penalties, which ultimately won the game for the hosts.

Against the Crusaders on Saturday, the Lions had produced a sensational defensive lock-out, but in this match-up they reverted to the frequent lapses of concentration which undermined their efforts in last week’s defeat by the Blues.

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3 | Lima Sopoaga, Waisake Naholo proved just how difficult the test series is going to be with the two individuals being selected in Steve Hansen’s 33-man squad to face the Lions. Although Malakai Fekitoa missed the cut, the outside centre showed his brilliance through the encounter and posed very dangerous to the Lions defence.

Sopoaga was crucial in the dynamics of the squad when attacking, the fly-half was at the centre of everything constructive the Highlanders did. Whilst Naholo was at his prolific best, scoring a try and knocking Courtney Lawes out for the count. The powerful winger has shown Warren Gatland that he is not to be messed with when the Lions come to face him in an All Blacks jersey.

4 | The British and Irish Lions injury count is mounting up, Courtney Lawes left the field of play with suspected concussion after his collision with Naholo before the powerful winger got through three Lions defenders including Lawes to score during the first-half.

Stuart Hogg was also confirmed before the game with the Highlanders that he would take no further part of the tour after his accident clash with Conor Murray against the Crusaders a few days ago in Christchurch.

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5 | Kyle Sinckler is making steady progress and is showing signs of a prop that could be in line for a place in the match day 23 for the tests against New Zealand.

The 24-year-old made several breaks and ball carries during a physical game in Dunedin and with his continued performances, he will surely be on Gatland’s shortlist with at least one game left for him to audition in.

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