Anti-climax at Eden Park as Lions draw series with All Blacks
AUCKLAND – “That’s it, the hooter went a while ago,” the television match official told the referee as a confused hush descended over Eden Park. The third test between the All Blacks and British and Irish Lions had ended in a 15-15 draw with the series tied 1-1.
It was a result no one wanted.
Not the 48,000 fans clad in red and black who had shouted themselves hoarse at Eden Park, not the millions more watching around the world on television, nor the more than 50 players who battled it out over three epic test matches.
The Lions will go home happiest after coming so close to performing the Herculean task of beating the most dominant team of the modern era twice at home to match their predecessors of 1971 in winning a series in New Zealand.
All Blacks captain Kieran Read said it was “heartwrenching” and the world champions had some reason for grievance after referee Romain Poite backtracked on the award of a late penalty that surely would have given them victory.
It was only the second drawn series in more than a century of Lions tours, the 1955 tourists also shared a series with the Springboks, and All Blacks coach Steve Hansen suggested it was not an unreasonable conclusion.
“It’s a bit like kissing your sister and no-one wants that,” he said.
“But there’s been some really good rugby played over the series and perhaps a drawn series was fair.
“It’s not a World Cup final, so if you’re good enough to get a draw then maybe it’s right that both teams get recognised.”
Lions coach Warren Gatland said he thought drawing with the back-to-back world champions in their own backyard was an “unbelievable achievement” for his players, especially as so many people had predicted a 3-0 blackwash.
“I think both teams would have been frustrated but if you’d said six weeks ago come to New Zealand and get a draw, you’d have taken that,” he said.
“The result is probably a fair reflection of where the tour is at.”
It was a third thunderous contest in three weeks. Almost every inch of progress was hard-earned, the tackles flew in and players were back and forth off the field for concussion tests with troubling regularity.
The Lions came into the match expecting a backlash from the hosts after the 24-14 victory in Wellington last week that levelled the series and they got it with a 15th minute try from Ngani Laumape quickly putting them on the back foot.
A Beauden Barrett intercept as the Lions attacked the home line got the All Blacks down the other end of the pitch and the rookie centre was on hand to pounce when Barrett’s crosskick was knocked back by fullback Jordie Barrett.
The Lions, as they had with the tour after starting out with an unimpressive victory over a scratch team of semi-professionals and losing the opening test 30-15, patiently worked their way back into contest.
Flyhalf Owen Farrell kicked his first two penalties to reduce the deficit to a point before the hosts struck again five minutes before halftime.
Jordie Barrett, playing only his second test, was the beneficiary as the All Blacks backline finally got their passes to stick and a Laumape offload created the space for the 20-year-old fullback to give the hosts a 12-6 halftime lead.
Winger Elliot Daly opened the scoring in the second half with a huge penalty from more than 50 metres that set the tone for the remainder of the Lions’ scoring.
They were still looking unlikely to breach the All Blacks line even after flanker Jerome Kaino was sin-binned after 50 minutes for a dangerous tackle on Alun Wyn Jones that left the Welsh lock dazed.
Farrell welcomed Kaino back to the pitch with a 45-metre penalty that levelled the scores at 12-12 but Beauden Barrett put New Zealand back ahead eight minutes later with his first penalty.
Again, Farrell mustered up another huge effort to get the Lions back on terms two minutes from time but Poite raised his arm for an offside penalty to the All Blacks from the ensuing kickoff.
After a discussion, however, the French official changed the call to a scrum in a decision that is likely to be hotly debated for years to come. “We all know what happened, and we all know what should have happened,” said Hansen. “We are accepting of the decisions that were made and whether we agree with them is something that we will discuss with the referees.” -Reuters