The British and Irish Lions got their tour of New Zealand back on track as Leigh Halfpenny kicked Warren Gatland's men to a comfortable 32-10 win over the Maori All Blacks in Rotoura on Saturday (17 June).
Halfpenny's wondrous display of kicking amassed 21 points while a second-half Maro Itoje try and a penalty try awarded by referee Jaco Peyper supplemented the Toulon star's impressive points haul.
Halfpenny got the ball rolling with two early penalties but the Lions soon fell behind when Liam Messam pounced on a loose ball to score the first try of the contest after 12 minutes. Messam's bright work punished the sloppiness shown by the George North and Halfpenny, and Damian McKenzie made sure his side capitalised on the needless error.
Halfpenny, recently challenged by Gatland to make the 15 shirt his own ahead of the first Test against New Zealand on 24 June, swiftly made up for his part in allowing Maori to take the lead by converting another penalty halfway through the first period.
Colin Cooper's side edged back in front soon after courtesy of another penalty from McKenzie and were just moments away from going into the second half on top. But Halfpenny took his tally to four from four for the evening in stoppage time, handing the Lions a slender 12-10 half-time lead in the process.
The second half began as the first half ended as Halfpenny kept up his marvellous display from the tee to stretch his side's lead to five points. Maori's misery at slipping further behind was compounded soon after; Tawera Kerr-Barlow's dangerous tackle on Halfpenny in the 48th minute was predictably punished with a yellow card by referee Peyper, who awarded the Lions a penalty try three minutes later after the Maori turned the ball illegally.
The Lions sensed their opponents were rocking badly and pressed home their advantage midway through the second half through Itoje, who capitalised on Taulupe Faletau's strong drive to pick up the pieces and drive his side over the line.
Halfpenny unsurprisingly converted to give the Lions a 19-point lead which he soon increased to 22 with yet another penalty on 70 minutes. Maori huffed and puffed as they attempted to restore pride, but Gatland's side, skippered by Peter O'Mahony, comfortably saw the game out.
After the final whistle the versatile Munster star commended his side's well-rounded, dominant performance and spoke of his pride to captain the Lions to such a handsome victory against a strong opponent in the form of the Maori All Blacks, who simply couldn't live their opponents in the second half.
"Scrum and lineout were good today on both sides of the ball," O'Mahony said. "The weather, we played it tactically well, but we've plenty to do. There's a big game on Tuesday and it's good timing for a good win.
"It's a huge day for me personally and an incredible honour to captain the Lions against a good side like the Maoris and to come out with a huge win, I'm proud of the boys."
British and Irish Lions fixtures [8:35am BST kick-off time unless otherwise stated]
Tuesday 20 June – Chiefs– Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
Saturday 24 June – New Zealand– First Test, Eden Park, Auckland
Tuesday 27 June – Hurricanes – Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Saturday 1 July – New Zealand – Second Test, Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Saturday 8 July – New Zealand – Third Test, Eden Park, Auckland