By John Davidson,
New Zealand have triumphed 12-8 over Great Britain in a fiery contest at Eden Park.
Tries to Jamayne Isaako and Corey Harawira-Naera were enough to hold off the fast-finishing Lions after Daryl Clark scored in the second half.
Jermaine McGilvary had the chance to level the game up late but lost the ball over the line in a try-saving tackle by Kenny Bromwich.
After going down 14-8 to Tonga last weekend, Great Britain have suffered their second tour loss.
The Kiwis made one late change to their line-up with hooker Brandon Smith dropped for failing to meet team standards. He was replaced by Kodi Nikorima, with Jahrome Hughes joining the bench.
It was a cagey opening spell with each side keen to complete their sets and win the yardage battle. But just five minutes in and the Kiwis lost Kieran Foran with a dislocated shoulder, with Hughes replacing him.
New Zealand took a 2-0 lead two minutes later through a penalty goal from Jaymane Isaako. In the 16th minute the Lions leveled it up thanks to the boot of Gareth Widdop.
Both teams continued their conservative play and waited for the other to crack. An error from Kenny Bromwich on 24 minutes handed Great Britain an opportunity.
The ball shifted wide to Jermaine McGilvary but the Kiwis closed down the space quickly. The two sides were cancelling each other out with scoring chances rare.
Ryan Hall managed to defuse a New Zealand attack when he intercepted Hughes’ pass. The breakthrough never came in the first half, with a promising line break from Jospeh Manu unable to be finished as the whistle blew.
In the second half the match continued in the same vein with defence ruling the day and creativity sorely lacking. The arm wrestle wore on until a piece of magic from Roger Tuivasa-Sheck in the 48th minute blew the contest open.
The fullback beat two defenders, sped away and then managed to draw two more tackles while somehow managing to freakishly flick the ball away to Isaako for the try. It terms of game-breakers, you will see few better.
Isaako as unable to convert it but the Kiwis had managed to poke their noses in front at 6-2. And in the tightest of tight contests any points were manna from heaven.
Three minutes later the Lions were saved by the video referee. Benji Marshall’s grubber kick pinballed into the Great Britain defence and Briton Nikora managed to hack through the ball to score.
But the try was chalked out for a knock on from Nikora in the lead-up and the Lions were still in it. The energised New Zealanders continued unabated.
Their lead was extended soon after thanks to Corey Harawira-Naera. The busting back-rower forced his way over the line with four tacklers and impressively got the ball down.
With Isaako adding the extras to make it 12-2 the lacklustre Lions were in a hole. Tensions boiled over in the 59th minute after Joe Tapine caught James Graham late with a huge hit.
Graham reacted and both teams ran in to trade punches. Neither player was sin-binned and then a minute later another full-team melee erupted.
Great Britain managed to regain their composure slowly and only a high tackle stopped McGilvary from crashing over in the corner. But soon after substitute Daryl Clark touched down, after he regathered Alex Walmsley’s offload close to the line.
After Widdop’s conversion the Lions were back in it at 12-8 with 12 minutes left. McGilvary dived over to tie the game up in the 76th minute, but cruelly lost control of the ball as he hit the line.
There was to be no miracle comeback, no last minute heroics as the Kiwis held on for the win.