The British and Irish Lions got their 2017 tour of New Zealand back on track as a strong side battled to an impressive 12-3 victory over the previously unbeaten Crusaders in Christchurch on Saturday (10 June).
It was a good day for the Farrells, with England fly-half Owen making his first start of the trip, converting four penalties at the AMI Stadium and combining well with accomplished box-kicker Conor Murray in addition to beginning a potentially fruitful 10-12 combination with Johnny Sexton. Father Andy and forwards coach Graham Rowntree will also receive credit for a strong defensive display characterised by impressive linespeed and a dominant showing at the set piece.
While a lack of tries and attacking verve will be a concern as the three Tests against the formidable All Blacks loom, victory against a team littered with New Zealand internationals who have won all 14 of their Super Rugby contests so far this season will come as a huge shot in the arm for Warren Gatland's squad after a somewhat rocky opening to a gruelling 10-match tour.
After limping to an underwhelming opening victory against the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians last weekend, the Lions were beaten 22-16 by the Blues in Auckland on Wednesday thanks to a superb late score from Ihaia West.
"We needed that, didn't we?" an embattled Gatland said after the match. "The most important thing was the result. The performance was pleasing; the Crusaders have been averaging five tries a game. I thought our defence was outstanding, lineout and set piece pretty good. We knew we had trained well for the last couple of days and that we were going to get a good performance. The more time we get together, the better we'll get."
He later added: "There's been a lot of criticism, people have written the tour off. I hope we didn't disappoint tonight."
The only negatives for Gatland came in the form of injuries to Jonathan Davies and Stuart Hogg, both of whom exited the contest after sustaining blows to the heads. The former failed a head injury assessment (HIA), while the latter sustained a nasty cut above his eye after being caught with an accidental elbow from Murray.
After seeing off the Crusaders, who were clearly irked by French referee Mathieu Raynal's interpretation at the scrum, the Lions now move onto Dunedin for a meeting with the Highlanders on Tuesday. Gatland confirmed that tour captain Sam Warburton, who saw his domestic season ended by a knee injury in April, would likely play at Forsyth Barr Stadium after hurting his ankle against the Provincial Barbarians. Wales teammates Dan Biggar and Ross Moriarty will also hope to return.
After taking on the Highlanders, the Lions then face the Maori All Blacks and the Chiefs before locking horns with reigning world champions New Zealand for the first time at Eden Park on 24 June. The final two Tests are preceded by a game against the Hurricanes in Wellington.