Crusaders vs Lions: Five things we learned

by Sam Phillips

The Lions proved the doubters wrong with a resurgent win over the Crusaders tonight.

Here's what we learned from the 12-3 win.

1. Tour not a foregone conclusion

Not that it ever was, though the reaction after the loss to the Blues may have suggested otherwise.

This was a seriously tough win.Maro Itoje thanks the Lions fans for their unwavering support. Photo: Getty ImagesThe Crusaders were disjointed by some average refereeing (we'll get to that later) but the Lions had their measure.

This Crusaders outfit has scored just shy of 5.5 tries per game in 2017 and they could only manage a sole Richie Mo'unga penalty tonight.

The tourists were near perfect on the defensive end and that's certainly what Lions fans would want to see before taking on the best attacking team in world rugby.

2. Sweet serendipity

It wasn't Warren Gatland's intentions but he may have found his midfield combination tonight.

Conor Murray and Owen Farrell controlled the game with phenomenal kicks in play but it was the men outside that pair that thrived.Johnny Sexton made a strong case for a starting gig tonight. Photo: Getty ImagesGatland's teams typically play with a crash ball inside centre but when Jonathan Davies was forced from the field and Ben Te'o shifted to outside centre, the injection of Johnny Sexton changed the game.

The shape of the team's attack with two playmakers running the show was markedly better and caused the Crusaders continuous headaches, even if there wasn't a try to show for it.

A Murray-Farrell-Sexton-Te'o combination would be something the All Blacks haven't seen before and with more time together, that quartet could be the key to getting this attack humming.

3. Kiwis turn to blame referee

The television commentary and the online commentary alike was not impressed with the performance of French official Mathieu Raynal.

Raynal pinged the Crusaders for offside but didn't seem to reciprocate the call when the Lions were defending.

Add that to some dubious penalties and you have the recipe for backlash.

It has to be said that it's quite comical to see Kiwis complaining about refereeing when they're often the first to look the other way when a call or two is in their favour.

The Lions were the better team and this wasn't a case where Raynal cost the Crusaders the game.

What it did affect, though, is the natural flow of the game.

That's not a good result for fans or Kiwi teams which love to play at full tilt.

4. Watson welcomes opportunity

Anthony Watson streaks away. Photo: Getty ImagesAnthony Watson came on for an injured Stuart Hogg with 20 minutes on the clock and he looked to be the Lions' best threat out wide.

He had six runs for 76 metres, two tackle busts and a slick line break.

This Lions side needs some outside pace and he has plenty of it.

Would be good to see him handed another starting opportunity before the first Test.

5. Te'o the terrific

Ben Te'o looks right at home in this Lions midfield.

Every Australian sports fan is watching the ex-Queensland Origin star keenly and there is nothing in his game to suggest he isn't up to this level.

Never misses an opportunity to threaten with ball in hand and has the ball playing skills to bring the back three into the game.

He's a terrific defender and looked to have enjoyed playing outside two ball players.