Lions carve out their own piece of history with drawn series

Warren Gatland’s side weather ferocious All Blacks storm to earn a 15-15 draw in Auckland

New Zealand 15 British & Irish Lions 15

The Americans would no doubt laugh at such an outcome. After 12 years of waiting, a tour of six weeks and 10 matches culminating an in an epic three-match test series, there was to be no winner. At the end, all 30 players looked utterly deflated, and most of the crowd reacted as if stunned, not knowing whether to laugh or cry.

History beckoned, but this was not quite the history which people had expected. An epic tour and series ended in high drama, if somewhat anti-climactically. It’s the first tied test series between these sides, and the first Lions one since 1955 in South Africa. In truth, to match the All Blacks over three tests is arguably the mightier achievement, all the more so as they looked down and out after the first test and at times in this one. Their resilience, spirit, willingness to dig deep for each other, was remarkable.

Regrets, both sides will have plenty, and perhaps the All Blacks more so. They had the better of a match which ebbed riotously, and created plenty of chances; making six line breaks to one. But a host of uncharacteristic fumbles saw them butcher a plethora of chances. They also left two kicks behind, whereas Owen Farrell, after an undistinguished opening quarter, ultimately held his nerve magnificently to land four from four, with Elliot Daly underlining his value with a penalty from inside the Lions' own half.

That said, the Lions had plenty of the game and were ambitious and inventive, using their screens to take the ball out the back and go wide. Their passing was good, so too their lines of running and support play. The just didn't have the ballast that Ngani Laumape and Julien Savea brought to the party.

There appeared to be almost more red than black in a heaving Eden Park, but there was no doubting the louder roar which greeted the home side when Kieran Read led his team out on the occasion of his 100th test, or the passion for the New Zealand anthem and the haka. The Lions looked on cold-eyed. Sean O'Brien looked almost nonchalant.

Johnny Sexton kicked off but the All Blacks had the first inroads when Julien Savea ran back the kick-off and Liam Williams conceded the lineout by stepping over the touchline. Maro Itoje appeared to have eased the pressure when his line speed was such that he snaffled Aaron Smith's pass for Read, but when Murray and Sexton went wide, Farrell sliced out horribly on the full.

Cue the spark that took the game onto another level. Taulupe Faletau put pressure on the Codie Taylor throw and Itoje stole the ball. From Murray’s perfect box kick, Daly beat Israel Dagg in the air with a brilliant take at full stretch, and the Lions went wide and hard through the phases. Itoje took a return pass from Daly on the left wing, and Furling carried hard up the middle. The Lions looked set to score but Farrell, making his fourth error of the pitch, went for a skip pass which Beauden Barrett.

When he offloaded in the tackle to the supporting Ngani Laumape, it was the All Blacks who looked certain to score, but Davies chased down the centre and Watson was on hand to stop the offload.

New Zealand, though, were in no mood to waste the opportunity and they struck through a 15th-minute try after Barrett’s cross-kick found his brother Jordie, who tapped possession back inside and Laumape finished off. Barrett’s conversion made it 7-0 and it was a nervy opening from the Lions, not helped by Farrell’s error-strewn first quarter.

The Lions were playing with plenty of width, and Liam Williams kicked into space, forcing Beauden Barrett to concede an attacking lineout. Although the All Blacks held it up, when Sam Warburton peeled off and fed Davies, Beauden Barrett was pinged for not rolling away and Farrell landed the penalty.

But when Beauden Barrett saw the space out wide and the Lions all at sea, his cross kick was gathered by Savea, with Farrell too tight, and he busted Liam Williams tackle only for Farrell to recover, and the Lions were relieved to see Sam Cane fumble.

The Lions needed a big defensive play to lift the siege and it came from Davies, when he shot up and nailed Jordie Barrett, driving him back in the tackle. Sexton and Alun Wyn Jones cleared out and Warburton poached for a turnover which also won a penalty.

Farrell surprised all and sundry with a quick tap, but Watson slipped when gathering and the element of surprise was lost. After the winger was tackled, both Read and O’Brien were left poleaxed. But both rose to their feet almost simultaneously. Tough men.

Better still when Anton Lienart-Brown was deemed offside at a ruck by Romain Poite, Farrell second penalty somehow made it a one-point game.

Not for long though.

The Lions briefly attacked again, using their screens for Murray or Sexton to pass out the back and go wide. Sexton was also running hard at the line himself when he alternated positions with Farrell. He even made a half-break and popped the ball to the supporting Farrell who might have been away but for Aaron Smith tackling him by the ankles. In the event, Jones was pinged for holding on, even though Sam Whitelock was clearly off his feet. Sexton's ankle received lengthy treatment before he hobbled back into the fray.

That penalty was a turning point.

From a take by Retallick, Beauden Barrett launched Laumape up the middle, the centre crashing into Farrell’s tackle and freeing his hands to offload for Lienart-Brown, and he drew Williams before is right to left pass gave Jordie Barrett an untouched run to the line for his first of what are likely to be many test tries.

His brother missed the tricky conversion and the half ended with Davies, oddly, kicking the ball after the hooter had gone and Jordie Barrett happily ran it dead.

Although it looked ominous, the Lions could at least be relieved to be only 12-6 down.

CJ Stander replaced O’Brien at half-time, who was clearly none the better for his collision. Read began the second-half by dragging Williams off the ball and throwing him to the ground. Elliot Daly lined up the 55 metre penalty and cleared the bar to make it 12-9.

When Sexton went offside, his opposite number found a razor-like penalty from almost halfway to within five metres of the Lions line. Their drive was held up, but when Israel Dagg hit the line and fed Jordie Barrett, a try looked certain. The latter’s pass out wide to Savea was brilliantly held by the winger, but was rightly deemed forward by the two French officials.

Another let-off.

Whereupon the Lions pack produced their best scrum of the night, affording Murray ample time for the clearance. Even when Jerome Kaino held up Faletau in the tackle to win a turnover scrum, Lienart-Brown knocked on in midfield. Cue a third strong Lions' scrum.

The psychological energy shifted again when Jones trucked it up, and was caught in the face by Kaino’s swinging left arm. Even the TMO George Ayoub agreed with Poite when he decreed Kaino be yellow carded for a dangerous tackle.

However, Jamie George's throw from the resultant lineout was crooked and when the Lions knocked again, Jerome Garces harshly adjudged an offload by Watson to release Williams was forward when it looked flat, although he was perfectly placed.

Then another high, swinging left arm in the tackle, this time by Retallick on Courtney Lawes, who had replaced the groggy Jones, saw Farrell draw the sides level with a fine 45 metre penalty.

Each side tested the other’s defence, and each was repelled, Lawes spilling in contact at one end, Watson brilliantly tackling Savea at the other.

Now the only chant echoing around Eden Park was “All Blacks” again, and the mood music turned further against the Lions when Williams fumbled a pick-up from a kick by Aaron Smith. Webb, helped by Farrell and Itoje, held up Dagg in a choke tackle to earn a scrum, which had now become a mess. At the second re-set, a big scrum earned a penalty which Barrett kicked.

Then when Te’o trucked it up, Crockett didn’t roll away, and although he took an age Poite had no option but to award a penalty. Farrell, with barely two minutes remaining in a Lions test series decider, showed nerves of steel, to land the 46 metre kick with inches to spare.

From the restart, Williams was lifted but failed to gather as Read chased, leapt and extended his arm. The ball went sidewards, but when Ken Owens played the ball, Poite initially decreed it was offside and signalled a penalty to the All Blacks.

He was encouraged to go to the TMO by Warburton to check for an aerial hit by Read, and while happy with his challenge, Poite changed his mind to award a scrum to the New Zealand, much to Read’s annoyance, on the basis that the offside was accidental.

It was a fair interpretation of two slightly conflicting laws, and one the TMO concurred with. It will certainly be debated hereabouts at great length. But it would have been incredibly harsh on Owens. The All Blacks had one last surge through the phases, going both left and wide right, where Jordie Barrett was tackled into touch a minute and a half after the hooter had sounded.

An anti-climax for sure, albeit this was a mighty achievement by the Lions, who had next to no preparation time, to come from behind and match the back to back World champions over three matches.

And so read and Warburton went onto the stage to jointly lift the trophy, by which point the rain arrived and most had left. No winner then, except maybe rugby.

Scoring sequence: 15 mins Laumape try, B Barrett con 7-0; 21 mins Farrell pen 7-3; 33 mins Farrell pen 7-6; 36 mins J Barrett try 12-6; (half-time 12-6); 42 mins Daly pen 12-9; 60 mins Farrell pen 12-12; 68 mins B Barrett pen 15-12; 78 mins Farrell pen 15-15.

New Zealand: Jordan Barrett (Hurricanes); Israel Dagg (Crusaders), Anton Lienert-Brown (Chiefs), Ngane Laumape (Hurricanes), Julien Savea (Hurricanes); Beauden Barrett (Hurricanes), Aaron Smith (Highlanders); Joe Moody (Crusaders), Codie Taylor (Crusaders), Owen Franks (Crusaders), Brodie Retallick (Chiefs) Samuel Whitelock (Crusaders), Jerome Kaino (Blues), Sam Cane (Chiefs), Kieran Read (Crusaders, captain). Replacements: Wyatt Crockett (Crusaders) for Moody, Charlie Faumuina (Blues) for Franks (both 58 mins), Ardie Savea (Hurricanes) for Cane (60 mins), Malakai Fekitoa (Highlanders) for Laumape (67 mins), Nathan Harris (Chiefs) for Taylor, TJ Perenara (Hurricanes) for A Smith, Aaron Cruden (Chiefs) for J Savea (all 74 mins), Scott Barrett (Crusaders) for Whitelock (78 mins). Sinbinned: Kaino (50-60 mins).

British & Irish Lions: Liam Williams (Scarlets, Wales); Anthony Watson (Bath Rugby, England), Jonathan Davies (Scarlets, Wales), Owen Farrell (Saracens, England), Elliot Daly (Wasps, England); Johnny Sexton (Leinster, Ireland), Conor Murray (Munster, Ireland); Mako Vunipola (Saracens, England,) Jamie George (Saracens, England), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster, Ireland), Maro Itoje (Saracens, England), Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys, Wales), Sam Warburton (Cardiff Blues, Wales, capt), Sean O'Brien (Leinster, Ireland), Taulupe Faletau (Bath Rugby, Wales). Replacements: CJ Stander (Munster, Ireland) for O'Brien (half-time), Ben Te'o (Worcester Warriors, England) for Sexton (50-55 and 73 mins), Courtney Lawes (Northampton, England) for Jones (50 mins), Jack McGrath (Leinster, Ireland) for Vunipola, Kyle Sinckler (Harlequins, England) for Furlong (both 60 mins), Jones for Warburton (67-73 mins), Ken Owens (Scarlets, Wales) for George, Rhys Webb (Ospreys, Wales) (both 70 mins), Jack Nowell (Exeter, England) for Watson (74 mins).

Referee: Romain Poite (France).