We have witnessed history, ladies and gentlemen, but maybe not in the way you expected. We have a first-ever drawn Lions series in New Zealand. We all survived it, somehow.
This was an epic, ding-dong contest to finish an epic, ding dong series. At 15-15 it was an absorbing encounter, punctuated by savage contacts. The All Blacks butchered a lot of chances but could have won it in the end, with referee Romain Poite originally giving a penalty for Ken Owens making contact with the ball after it went forward off Liam Williams. But after consulting with his assistants he changed the call to a scrum. It will be a key talking point here in New Zealand for a long time, while so many will ask if Lions series in the future must have a winner and a loser.
At the end of the game, few knew what to do with themselves. Kieran Read, celebrating his 100th cap, looked a little stunned, while Sam Warburton had a wry smile. But at the end of a long tour which began with the tourists being written off, the Lions will be delighted to have taken the best the world’s number one can offer and stood their ground.
No one expected a draw, but drama does not need an ending all wrapped up with a bow.
The Lions secured their draw through the kicking boots of Owen Farrell and Elliot Daly, while the All Blacks got two tries. Ngani Laumape was instrumental in both Kiwi dots. He scored the first one after a Beauden Barrett crossfield kick was palmed back in field by brother Jordie, for Laumape to collect and go over. He then returned the favour, throwing a sublime round-the-tackler offload creating the space for Jordie to burst through.
The match tore along with a sense of fervour. Elliot Daly began the scoring in the second half, but while a yellow card for Jerome Kaino could have opened the hole for the Lions to score, they could not capitalise with a try, committing errors under pressure.
They did knock over a penalty to square things up at 12-12, before the All Blacks were awarded a scrum penalty that Beauden Barrett sent through to edge ahead again. The pendulum kept swinging. Farrell showed his bottle with a long-range penalty to draw level again and then
Respect – The Lions have won their respect in New Zealand. It has been a brilliant tour.
Brutal force – The hits in this match were savage. So feral was the action that at one point Sean O’Brien and Kieran Read lay prone, reeling from the action. O’Brien would not last much longer, while Johnny Sexton was down a few times, his first hurting his lower leg, the second leading to an enforced Head Injury Assessment. Alun Wyn Jones was also removed from the action after a brutal smash from Kaino, who was yellow carded for the challenge – but that is one of the lows, below.
Either way, it was the kind of brutality that brings the best out of players like Brodie Retallick and Mako Vunipola.
Cojones – Farrell’s penalty kick to square it up at 15-all was a huge display of courage. Then there was the decision by Poite… The Lions won’t care about the call. They clung on and need to be congratulated for being great tourists. And for showing the vulnerability of the All Blacks, they have done the game of rugby a service.
Jonathan Davies – His highlight will have been a huge hit on Jordie Barrett, but he oozed class all game. One of the Lions top performers all tour. A consistent wonder.
Turnovers – The ball was handed over through errors or turnover 38 times. It was a day for defences.
Poite’s call – Whichever way you see it, this will be one of the stinks of the modern age for a great number of Kiwis.
Concussion handling – How Alun Wyn Jones was allowed to return to play, post HIA, after appearing to be knocked out by Kaino is beyond everyone. It looked dangerous. He should have been removed from play and not re-introduced.
All Blacks catching – There was uncharacteristically hapless handling from the All Blacks. Sure the Laumape offload was sublime, but New Zealand could not keep their mitts on the ball. They let so many chances in the first half pass them by – with Julian Savea spilling a ball with acres of space a fine illustration of this – and could have put the result out of touch, before the officials got involved.
2 – This was only the second time in history there’s been a drawn Lions series.
5 – The Lions improved out of sight in terms of discipline, only conceding five penalties to the All Blacks’ nine.
77 – tackles from the Lions, compared to 84 by the All Blacks.
58 – Number of years since the Lions last won at Eden Park. The wait continues.
New Zealand: Jordie Barrett; Israel Dagg, Anton Lienert-Brown, Ngani Laumape (Malakai Fekitoa 66), Julian Savea; Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith (TJ Perenara 73); Joe Moody (Wyatt Crockett 57), Codie Taylor (Nathan Harris 72), Owen Franks (Charlie Faumuina 57), Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock, Jerome Kaino, Sam Cane (Ardie Savea 60), Kieran Read (capt).
Tries: Laumape, J Barrett. Con: B Barrett. Pen: B Barrett.
Lions: Liam Williams; Anthony Watson (Jack Nowell 72), Jonathan Davies, Owen Farrell, Elliot Daly; Johnny Sexton (Ben Te’o 72), Conor Murray (Rhys Webb 69); Mako Vunipola (Jack McGrath 60), Jamie George (Ken Owens 69), Tadhg Furlong (Kyle Sinckler 60), Maro Itoje, Alun Wyn Jones (Courtney Lawes 49), Sam Warburton (capt) ), Sean O’Brien (CJ Stander 40), Taulkupe Faletau.
Pen: Farrell 4, Daly.