Dunedin - The
British and Irish Lions stumbled to a 23-22 defeat to the Highlanders
on Tuesday as they suffered the second loss of their tour
ahead of next week's first Test against the All Blacks.
The Lions finally found their attacking mojo, scoring three tries to two - more than doubling their try tally so far - but lost from a winning position through a late penalty.
"Unfortunately, some big moments we didn't nail allowed them back into the game," coach Warren Gatland said after his team led 22-13 mid-way through the second half.
"We needed some strong game management to close the game down. We've taken a little bit of a step backwards but we have to learn from those moments."
The Lions now have two wins and two losses after four outings on their gruelling 10-match New Zealand tour, with the first Test in Auckland looming a week on Saturday.
The match was played at breakneck pace in front of a capacity 27 000 crowd at Forsyth Barr stadium, with both sides attempting to run the ball under the covered roof.
It resulted in a chaotic scramble in the final minutes, when replacement flyhalf Marty Banks potted a penalty to give the Highlanders a one-point edge.
Elliot Daly attempted to return fire but his long-range penalty effort fell just short, before centre Jonathan Joseph's knock-on after the siren dashed hopes of a last-gasp comeback.
The loss against a Highlanders side missing seven players on international duty was a disappointment for Gatland's men, who were looking to build momentum after beating the Crusaders on Saturday.
They also have concerns over lock Courtney Lawes, who went off in the first half with head knock. Fullback Stuart Hogg earlier departed the tour after suffering a facial fracture against the Crusaders.
The Lions showed attacking intent, with captain Sam Warburton among the try-scorers as he fights to secure his Test spot after a run of injuries.
While disappointed the Lions conceded 12 penalties, Warburton said the match should help instill some discipline as the tourists build to the three-Test series against the world champion All Blacks.
"We're going to learn a lot more from a game where we lose by one point than we win by 60," he said.
"We can mature a bit as a squad and work on those key moments."
The Highlanders decided against performing a haka before the match and were instead led out by a piper before captain Luke Whitelock handed Warburton a giant claymore sword.
The hosts tested fullback Jared Payne under the high ball early but he proved up to the challenge, prompting them to send the ball wide.
After a penalty apiece, All Black Waisake Naholo scored the first try after Malakai Fekitoa broke the Lions' defensive line and flank Gareth Evans off-loaded as he was being crashed to the ground.
Joseph hit straight back with a scything run that left Highlanders fullback Richard Buckman flailing, locking up the scores 10-10 at the break.
Scottish wing Tommy Seymour put the Lions into the lead just after the restart, beating Fekitoa in the air as he tried to gather Naholo's cross-field kick.
Warburton then gave the tourists a third try after a dominant Lions scrum, only for Highlander Liam Coltman to retaliate from a lineout drive.
That reduced the arrears to 22-20, and Owen Farrell missed a chance to give the Lions some breathing space with a penalty from out wide.
But Banks made no mistake after the Highlanders won a scrum penalty, coolly slotting over the posts to put the hosts ahead 23-22 with eight minutes to go.
Daly's ambitious kick from 56 metres fell just short before Joseph's mistake ended the match, a harsh result for the try-scorer, who was one of the Lions' standouts.
The Lions' next tour match is against the Maori All Blacks in Rotorua on Saturday, with the first Test in Auckland a week later.
Tries: Waisake Naholo, Liam Coltman
Conversions: Lima Sopoaga, Marty Banks
Penalties: Sopoaga (2), Banks
British and Irish Lions
Tries: Jonathan Joseph, Tommy Seymour, Sam Warburton
Conversions: Dan Biggar (2)
15 Richard Buckman, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Teihorangi Walden, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Kayne Hammington, 8 Luke Whitelock (captain), 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Gareth Evans, 5 Jackson Hemopo, 4 Alex Ainley, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown
Substitutes: 16 Greg Pleasants-Tate, 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Siosiua Halanukonuka, 19 Josh Dickson, 20 James Lentjes, 21 Josh Renton, 22 Marty Banks, 23 Patrick Osborne
British and Irish Lions
15 Jared Payne; 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Tommy Seymour; 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb; 8 CJ Stander, 7 Sam Warburton (captain), 6 James Haskell; 5 Iain Henderson, 4 Courtney Lawes; 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Rory Best, 1 Joe Marler
Substitutes: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Dan Cole, 19 Alun Wyn Jones, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Greig Laidlaw, 22 Owen Farrell, 23 Elliot Daly