CHIEFS 6 BRITISH IRISH LIONS 34
Elliot Daly seemed to cement his place in the British and Irish Lions’ Test squad to face New Zealand with a smart showing in the 34-6 win over the Chiefs.
The England flyer’s sharp break teed up a flowing try for Jack Nowell, as the tourists overwhelmed the understrength Chiefs in Hamilton.
Exeter wing Nowell was back in form with a brace, while Jared Payne crossed and a penalty try completed the Lions’ scoring at the FMG Stadium.
The Lions start the three-Test series against the All Blacks on Saturday, and this was the last chance for any of the tourists to sway head coach Warren Gatland’s thinking for that Auckland clash.
Nowell’s impressive showing may still not be enough to see him squeeze into the Test match squad, however - with Daly likely to take a seat on the bench.
Gatland quickly called Daly off the field after he had set up Nowell’s second score, with the Lions boss potentially confident the versatile Wasps operator had shown enough form for a Test berth.
Gatland could now be left to ponder whether to start the out-of-sorts George North on the left wing against New Zealand, or promote Daly into the Test XV.
The Lions’ midweek men hit back to winning ways after galling defeats to the Blues and Highlanders, but did so against a Chiefs line-up shorn of 10 frontline stars - six of them All Blacks.
Courtney Lawes impressed at lock, especially in shaking off a nasty-looking clash of heads with Joe Marler.
The Northampton second row would be an option off the bench for the Test if required, though is likely to miss out with Maro Itoje, George Kruis and Alun Wyn Jones the three premier locks.
Lawes set the Lions rolling with a smart lineout steal, before the tourists ploughed through 20 phases without breaking the Chiefs’ defence.
Dan Biggar’s penalty put the Lions on the board, but then Marler lost his head and wiped out Nepo Laulala with an off-the-ball no-arms high shot.
The Harlequin was walking off the pitch before referee Jerome Garces could even award the yellow card.
The Chiefs put the penalty to the corner, only for CJ Stander to force a choke tackle at the maul.
Biggar and Stephen Donald traded penalties for the Lions to lead 6-3 on 20 minutes, and then Nowell punched home for an opportunist’s finish.
Wales fly-half Biggar’s fine wide, flat pass bisected the defence and allowed Liam Williams to make ground down the right.
And when the Lions drove through the middle, Nowell sniped home from the base of the ruck.
The Lions punted a kickable penalty to the corner only to botch the lineout maul, then Biggar was lucky to avoid a yellow card for a high swinging-arm shot on Chiefs number eight Tom Sanders.
Donald’s second penalty left the Lions leading 13-6 at the end of a fractious, error-strewn half.
The officials penalised Johnny Fa’auli for blocking after the break, in news that will please Gatland. The Lions believe the New Zealand teams have been getting away with illegal obstructions across the course of the tour.
Gatland has raised the issue publicly in urging referees to clamp down ahead of the Test series, and here was the first evidence his words could pay dividend.
England lock Lawes came off worst from a nasty-looking clash of heads with team-mate Marler, and departed for a Head Injury Assessment (HIA).
Mitch Brown collapsed a Lions maul just metres out, conceding a penalty try as well as being sin-binned.
Lawes returned after just five minutes off the field, with Jones heading back to the bench as the Wales lock was protected for Saturday’s Test match.
The Lions then cut loose for the first time, Nowell capping a flowing move with an impressive finish.
Justin Tipuric fed Daly who raced down the left, Payne and Robbie Henshaw took the move on in the Chiefs’ 22, and a fine pass from Iain Henderson handed Nowell the chance to strike.
The Exeter wing seized on a doglegged Chiefs defensive line, to scythe home and seal the Lions’ win.
Daly was immediately replaced, in a potentially telling substitution. The England man impressed in a busy showing and should now make Saturday’s Test 23.
The Chiefs then leaked another cheap score as Williams raced through a ragged home defence, before Payne coasted over the whitewash.