The Rugby World verdict on the second Test between the Lions and New Zealand in Wellington
The British & Irish Lions levelled the series by squeezing out a narrow win over New Zealand in Wellington. The two-time world champions were reduced to 14 men for 55 minutes after Sonny Bill Williams was red-carded for a dangerous tackle – but the tourists made hard work of capitalising on that advantage.
The Lions outscored the All Blacks two tries to none, Taulupe Faletau and Conor Murray crossing in the second half, but they didn’t take the lead until the 77th minute when Owen Farrell slotted a crucial penalty.
Prior to that Beauden Barrett’s boot had kept the All Blacks in front or level despite their numerical deficiency, the Lions again being made to pay for their penalty count. Yet Farrell gave the tourists the lead when it mattered and they managed to close out the game to take the series to the third and decisive Test at Eden Park next Saturday. Here’s a look at the good and the bad from the game…
Physical contest – Warren Gatland had challenged his players to be more physical in this second Test having been outmuscled in the first match – and they certainly brought more intensity at close quarters. At times it overstepped the mark – the cards for Sonny Bill Williams and Mako Vunipola attest to that – but the counter-rucking from the Lions was impressive and denied New Zealand the quick ball they had feasted on in the opening match.
Coupled with that physicality was the Lions defence, which was rock-solid never looked like conceding a try. Instead, the All Blacks had to rely on Beauden Barrett’s boot – how rare for the Kiwis to rely on penalties rather than touchdowns. In the final quarter it was the Lions who found holes to exploit but given their one-man advantage the coaches will surely be disappointed they weren’t able to secure a more comfortable victory.
Jonathan Davies – Four years on from the controversy surrounding his selection ahead of Brian O’Driscoll for the third Test against Australia, the Welshman is proving exactly why Warren Gatland rates him so highly. Superb for the Lions in the first Test in Auckland, he was again to the fore in Wellington – deft hands despite the conditions, powerful carries and uncompromising defence.
Sea of red – Despite the miserable weather, which saw many in attendance bedecked in plastic ponchos to protect them from the rain, the atmosphere was spine-tingling. The noise was a huge step up from Eden Park and the Lions fans were in full voice, particularly the huge pack situated behind one set of posts. As Sam Warburton and his team ran out, they would have seen that swathe of red shirts – and it’s sure to have been an inspirational sight. The touring supporters also countered the Kiwi song Tutira Mai with chants of ‘Lions Lions’ to drown out the words ‘Tatou Tatou’. It was great to see the Lions players then applaud their merry band of supporters after the final whistle.
Shoulder charges – As soon as footage of Sonny Bill Williams’s hit on Anthony Watson was shown on the big screen there were shouts of ‘Off, off’ from the crowd. And right they were. Hit is the best way to describe it for there was no attempt by Williams to wrap his arms in the tackle and his shoulder made direct contact with Watson’s head. Referee Jerome Garces was firm in bringing out the red card, saying: “I have to protect the player.”
It was extremely reckless and totally unnecessary from Williams, for Watson had already been stopped by one All Black’s legal tackle. Williams now has an unwanted record to go with his long list of achievements – only the third All Black to ever be sent off and the first since 1967.
Mako Vunipola saw yellow, too, for a dangerous clearout on Beauden Barrett in the second half. Again, it was reckless and unnecessary. These sort of acts have no place in the game.
Discipline – Infringements by the Lions cost them yet again, especially after the red card. It was almost as if they thought they could let their discipline slip having gained a man advantage, allowing Beauden Barrett to slot two more penalties in the ten minutes before half-time through their own indiscretions. Then within 13 minutes of the restart Maro Itoje (twice), Conor Murray and Mako Vunipola had all been penalised, although Barrett only found the target with two of those four kicks. A few minutes later, Vunipola was trudging off to the sin-bin.
The Lions spoke in the build-up about the need to improve their discipline but they seemed to forget that actions speak louder than words, and unfortunately their actions led to more points and territory for New Zealand. If the Lions are to win this series by beating the All Blacks at Eden Park next week, then they must reduce their penalty count.
Miss kicks – A lot of discussion in the lead-up to this game concerned the choice of two playmakers at ten and 12 for the Lions and the strength this would add to the Lions kicking game. It has to be said, though, that the Lions’ kicking did not reach the standards it has in previous games. Conor Murray’s box-kicks were not quite as pinpoint, a Johnny Sexton long kick rolled dead, relieving pressure on the All Blacks, and Elliot Daly hit another one too hard, New Zealand slotting a penalty from the resulting scrum.
Warren Gatland felt his team could have kicked more given the conditions – they kicked out of hand 25 times to the All Blacks’ 34 – and that they could also have been more accurate when putting boot to ball.
In the end, it was when the Lions kept the ball in hand that they reaped the most rewards, spreading it left and right and finding holes in a defence missing a man. That’s when they found the space to put Taulupe Faletau, whose work-rate throughout the game was outstanding, and Conor Murray over.
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13 – Penalties the Lions conceded to New Zealand’s eight. Beauden Barrett slotted seven of the ten kickable shots.
122 – Tackles made by the Lions compared to New Zealand’s 65. Maro Itoje made 14 of those while the Lions’ back row combined to make 35. In contrast, Sam Whitelock was the All Blacks’ top tackler with seven.
39% – Territory the Lions had during the game. They also trailed in terms of territory too (42%).
50 – Metres made by Israel Dagg. He was also the top carrier with 13.
6 – Clean breaks the Lions made to New Zealand’s one.
New Zealand: Irsael Dagg; Waisake Naholo (Aaron Cruden 59), Anton Lienert-Brown, Sonny Bill Williams, Rieko Ioane; Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith (TJ Perenara 66); Joe Moody (Wyatt Crockett 52), Codie Taylor (Nathan Harris 79), Owen Franks (Charlie Faumuina 52), Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock (Scott Barrett 73), Jerome Kaino (Ngani Laumape 26), Sam Cane (Ardie Savea 64), Kieran Read (capt).
Pens: Barrett 7.
Red card: Sonny Bill Williams (25min)
Lions: Liam Williams; Anthony Watson (Jack Nowell 25-31), Jonathan Davies, Owen Farrell, Elliot Daly; Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray; Mako Vunipola (O’Brien 66), Jamie George, Tadhg Furlong (Kyle Sinckler 62), Maro Itoje, Alun Wyn Jones (Courtney Lawes 59), Sam Warburton (capt), Sean O’Brien (Jack McGrath 64), Taulupe Faletau.
Tries: Faletau, Murray. Con: Farrell. Pens: Farrell 4.
Yellow card: Mako Vunipola (56min)