Lions claw back respect with win over Crusaders

What a difference a day makes.

Coming into the third match of their tour, Warren Gatland's Lions were not fit for purpose, midweek defeat by the Blues giving the British press corps serious jitters. Lions exposed and lacking 'x-factor', they declared, almost in unison.

But a gutsy 12-3 win over the redoubtable Crusaders on a cold, greasy night in Christchurch (billed by some as the fourth 'test') has transformed the mood. It was ever thus.

Victory "ensured that any talk of an ill-fated tour of New Zealand can be put to bed by triumphing in what looks to be their toughest warm-up match of the schedule", the Independent breathed, with obvious relief.

According to the Times, this was a massive victory. "A real statement. A line in the sand."

"They did not score a try, but, right now, that doesn't seem to matter. Actually, they should have scored at least two or three. So they can tuck that away - improvements to be had, etcetera."

Unlike its own rather laboured headline effort (Owen's a win), The Sun also had Gatland's men laying down a marker, with a controlled performance against the Super Rugby league leaders.

"The hosts have not been beaten once this season," said their man on the ground, "so this win will be a real boost for the Lions who mis-fired in their opening two games."

There had been no effort to downplay the significance of this particular fixture - inside and outside the Lions' den - in the wake of Wednesday's frustrating loss at Eden Park. Asthe Guardian said during the week, in the social media age everyone already has an opinion about these tourists and the virtual noise is tricky to ignore.

Gatland's visible relief, therefore, came as no surprise.

"I'm really pleased, more with the result than the performance. We needed that," reported WalesOnline.

So, for the press, a step up, the Lions imposing themselves, on the back of a good defence, forcing the Crusaders - with their gang of All Blacks - to kick more than they would normally. The French referee will no doubt get it in the neck.

On social media, former England number eight Nick Easter revelled in the performance: "Blueprint for the series. Brilliant D, disrupted set piece and forced Crusaders into a kicking game! Take chances that come. Gonna b a belter."

The BBC was right behind him: "Like the Blues in the previous match, the Super Rugby outfit looked impressive on the counter-attack but the Lions were able to nullify the danger and keep them pinned back in their territory."

Jet-lag a distant memory, it is now about getting to know you, and the press pack liked the pairing of Owen Farrell (and his four penalties) and Conor Murray (a pinpoint kicker, said the Telegraph).

The powerful carries of Mako Vunipola and captain Alun Wyn Jones went down like a cold tinnie.

In fact, as the Telegraph added: "There was so much to admire, so much to savour."

Gatland had named a strong side, and the feeling was that many would have done their chances of starting the test series no harm at all.

Selection for the Highlanders game on Tuesday may be a cause for concern, however. Full-back Stuart Hogg joined Jonathan Davies in the dressing room after colliding with Murray's elbow, cutting above his left eye.

Success will be defined by the last three weekends, but it sure does feel good on the back pages today.