Marty Banks kicked a late penalty as the Lions have suffered their second defeat of their New Zealand tour going down 23-22 to the Highlanders in Dunedin this morning.
Having put in a defensive masterclass to beat the Crusaders on Saturday, the Lions were desperate to show their attacking edge in attack with only two tries scored in three games.
And helped by the perfect conditions under the Forsyth Barr Stadium’s roof, they did that adding three tries their tour tally.
Jonathan Joseph, Tommy Seymour, captain Sam Warburton were the ones who got over the line while Dan Biggar kicked seven points from the tee and they even led 22-13 with 25 minutes to go.
But the Highlanders remained in this enthralling contest scoring two tries of their own through Waisake Naholo and Liam Coltman with Lima Sopoaga and Banks sharing 23 points with the boot.
It was the tale of two kickers after that with Banks slotting what turned out to be the match-winning penalty with seven minutes to go while Daly missed a long-range attempt which could have given the tourists the win on 78th minute.
With only 11 days before the first Test against the All Blacks and the Maoris next on the Lions’ way on Saturday, Warren Gatland will be looking for certainties quickly if they want to have any chance of repeating their feat of 2013.
It was the Highlanders who started on the front foot with a first wave of attack being just about coped with by the Lions who would have been happy to only conceded a penalty which was converted by Sopoaga.
Far from starting to panic, the Lions got their hands on the ball and they launched the next three attacks but each time they failed to look after the ball properly and gave it away.
The fourth seemed to be the one that would see the tourists break their duck when both Seymour and Rhys Webb came close but the Scottish winger was inches short of the line while the Welshman dropped the ball just before touching down.
A penalty advantage for offside was being played at the time however so Biggar had at least the opportunity to level the score from the tee which he did.
Sopoaga missed a second shot at goal but they went back on the attack and they had the Lions on the ropes.
The pressure eventually told and Naholo bundled through three defenders to score the first try of the game. Sopoaga converted and the hosts had a 10-3 lead.
But the Lions hit straight back using a well-organised driving maul. When the Highlanders brought it down irregularly, Webb went wide and, after fine-interplay from CJ Stander and Biggar, Joseph was unleashed down his channel.
The England centre put his foot down and slipped through for a try while Biggar’s fine conversion levelled the score on the half-hour and that’s how it stayed until the break.
It only took the Lions two minutes into the second half to score their second try of the game when Seymour brilliantly read a cross-field kick from Sopoaga and jumped ahead of Malakai Fekitoa to pluck the ball in the air and race away from 45 metres.
Biggar couldn’t convert this time and an unnecessary shoulder charge from Kyle Sinckler allowed Sopoaga and the Highlanders to close the gap to only two points with the successful penalty.
But the fly-half made a mess of the exit strategy from the restart which put his side under huge pressure and handed the Lions with a scrum five metres from the try line.
Eight phases of attack ensued and on the ninth it was captain Warburton who showed good leg drive to resist the defender and stretch to the line.
The game was slipping away from the Highlanders, who trailed 22-13, but they are not the type of team to die wondering and they found a way back into the game through a powerful drive and carry from hooker Coltman who was carried over the line by most of his pack.
Marty Banks converted and the Highlanders were once again back to within two points of the Lions with just under 20 minutes to go.
Owen Farrell came on for Biggar and was required to kick at goal straightaway but his penalty attempt drifted to the left of the posts to leave the score at 22-20 for the tourists with only ten minutes left on the clock.
The same couldn’t be said of Banks who rewarded his pack for a monster penalty scrum by putting his side in front again.
With seven minutes to go, the Lions had once again their back against the wall and Daly had the chance to clinch it with two minutes left on the clock but his 55-metre effort fell just short.
The Lions had one last go at it with a lineout on the last play 30 metres out but Joseph failed to grasp the ball in midfield and that was that.
Tries: Naholo 26, Coltman 61
Conversions: Sopoaga 26, Banks 61
Penalties: Sopoaga 5, 50, Banks 73
Tries: Joseph 29, Seymour 42, Warburton 53
Conversions: Bigger 29, 53
Penalties: Biggar 16
Highlanders: Richard Buckman; Waisake Naholo, Malakai Fekitoa, Teihorangi Walden, Tevita Li; Lima Sopoaga, Kayne Hammington; Daniel Lienert-Brown, Liam Coltman, Siate Tokolahi; Alex Ainley, Jack Hemopo; Gareth Evans, Dillon Hunt, Luke Whitelock (c)
Replacements: Greg Pleasants-Tate, Aki Seiuli, Siosiua Halanukonuka, Josh Dickson, James Lentjes, Josh Renton, Marty Banks, Patrick Osborne
Lions: Jared Payne; Jack Nowell, Jonathan Joseph, Robbie Henshaw, Tommy Seymour; Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb; Joe Marler, Rory Best, Kyle Sinckler; Courtney Lawes, Iain Henderson; James Haskell, Sam Warburton (c), CJ Stander
Replacements: Ken Owens, Jack McGrath, Dan Cole, Alun Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric, Greig Laidlaw, Owen Farrell, Elliot Daly
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)