Crusaders 3 Lions 12
Simon Lewis, AMI Stadium, Christchurch
Bristling with intent from the outset, the Lions put in their best performance of the tour so far and from the outset had the Crusaders on their toes, turning the screw at the scrum from the very first set-piece as Tadhg Furlong eked out two penalties and a free-kick at the expense of All Blacks loosehead Joe Moody, allowing Owen Farrell to get early points on the board.
The Lions made a massive statement in Christchurch, not just by delivering a first defeat of the season to Super Rugby's kingpins but keeping the usually free-scoring Crusaders tryless. And in grinding out a gutsy win head coach Warren Gatland may well have inked in several names on his Test team to face the All Blacks on June 24. Not only that but we now know that a Johnny Sexton-Owen Farrell 10-12 partnership is a more than viable option.
On the night the 2017 Lions sparked into life there were some outstanding performances from the tourists. Conor Murray made the most of his first minutes on tour, starting at scrum-half, combining well with Owen Farrell, whose goal-kicking was perfect but for a disputed missed penalty he failed to convince the referee to recheck. Yet it was captain Alun Wyn Jones whose performance was the high point, not just in an impressive lineout and front five at scrum time but with ball in hand and at the breakdown.
Mathieu Raynal of France incensed Lions fly-half Owen Farrell by refusing to go upstairs to his TMO to re-check a 45th-minute penalty he was convinced had been good but had been ruled out by his touch judges. It prompted a whinge for Johnny Sexton who wondered why Raynal did not check that when “you check everything for them”. The ref could also have taken further action against an all All Blacks row repeatedly penalised at scrum-time, while the Lions finally got their own penalty count into single figures.
Crusaders 9 Lions 7
The Lions lost of their backs inside the first 30 minutes as full-back Stuart Hogg was caught in the face by Conor Murray's raised arms as the Scot chased his own kick through traffic, while centre Jon Davies did not return from a Head Injury Assessment.
There will be hope that tour captain Sam Warburton makes a swift return from the ankle strain that ruled him out of this clash in order to get some more game time before the first Test on June 24.
The Lions continue southwards to Dunedin for this Tuesday's meeting with the Highlanders. The famous House of Pain that was Carisbrooke, which hosted the Lions' 30-19 victory over Otago in 2005, has given way to the Forsyth Barr Stadium, an enclosed arena that staged Ireland's pool victory over Italy at the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
The British and Irish Lions ignited their tour of New Zealand by ruthlessly ruining the Crusaders' perfect season with a potentially-priceless 12-3 victory.
Owen Farrell capped an inside-back masterclass with all the tourists' points as the Lions announced their true arrival in the Land of the Long White Cloud.
Warren Gatland's Lions answered all the questions and every critic with a win of substance and serious promise.
This was the day the 2017 Lions built a Test-quality outfit. This was the day the Lions proved they might just be able to mix it with the back-to-back world champions New Zealand.
The sight of home fans leaving in their droves before full-time will have left every Lions fan sporting a smile: the rugby-mad home crowd were as unhappy in defeat as the much-vaunted Crusaders themselves.
The home crowd booed Farrell for kicking the ball out to signal the final whistle, but that will not bother the tourists one iota.
Farrell, Jamie George, George Kruis and Alun Wyn Jones all nailed down their Test match places, with Conor Murray putting himself in the box seat for a start too.
Wednesday's disheartening 22-16 defeat to the Blues left this clash as the crux of the tour - and the Lions passed every test in style.
Steve Hansen and Eddie Jones have had plenty to say for themselves on all things Lions, from style of play to schedule constraints and commercial opportunities.
But after two patchy performances the Lions lit the touch paper on a tour that now promises to explode into life.
All Blacks boss Hansen and England coach Jones have both taken pops at the Lions' predicted playing style. Against the runaway Super Rugby leaders the tourists proved once again that Gatland's way will do just fine.
So strong are the All Black-laden Crusaders that they have won 14 from 14 Super Rugby matches.
The Lions swatted that record aside, however, heaping another level of intrigue on the three-Test series, that starts on June 24.
Two Farrell penalties gave the Lions the early advantage, but the first half hung entirely on the Crusaders' try-line fever. The hosts rejected two routine shots at goal in favour of punting to the corner.
The Television Match Official (TMO) ruled a drive to the line "inconclusive" as to whether a try had been scored.
But then the Crusaders knocked on trying to pulverise the visiting pack in driving off the line-out.
The Lions celebrated the mini-win just the way hooker George vowed they would keep doing, ahead of the clash. The tourists know full well how annoying that is to opponents, and are quite right to keep doing it.
The Lions completed the successful defence of that siege by winning a penalty at the scrum, clearing the danger to ensure they took a 9-3 lead into the break, Farrell having restored their six-point advantage with his third penalty to cancel out Richie Mo'unga's kick.
Stuart Hogg lasted just 20 minutes after running face-first into Conor Murray's elbow when chasing his own high ball, departing with a bloody nose and no little wounded pride.
Jonathan Davies looked sharp and tough, but was forced off for a Head Injury Assessment (HIA).
That paired Johnny Sexton at fly-half and Farrell at 12, and the pair looked immediately comfortable in harness.
Farrell shone constantly in a first half where the hosts were sloppy, but forever itching to counter from any distance.
The Lions opened the second half well, but Farrell was left mystified by the touch judges refusing to raise their flags when he blasted a penalty, so he thought, through the posts.
The goal did not stand, however, and the Lions wasted another half-chance when Ben Te'o followed a fine break with a poor pass.
George Bridge knocked on with a try begging after the Crusaders bisected the Lions' 10-12 channel, and then the Lions won another big scrum penalty.
Liam Williams' knock-on cost Anthony Watson a try, the Bath flyer stepping home in style only to see the score chalked off.
Watson produced another sumptuous break as the game started to fracture, with Sexton offering smart continuity - only for replacement flanker CJ Stander to spill the ball after cutting a threatening line.
The Lions hit the front foot again, with skipper Jones driving close to the line.
Tim Bateman was caught offside, though, and Farrell slotted his fourth penalty of the night.
That proved enough in the event, with the Lions hugging jubilantly when Farrell blasted the ball into touch for full-time.