Lions draw series after gritty performance in final All Blacks Test
Steve Hansen’s side will walk away with more regrets after thrilling finale at Eden Park
All Blacks’ Jordie Barrett is tackled by “Lions of the Tour” Jonathan Davies in the third Test match which ended in a 15-15 draw. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images
NEW ZEALAND 15 BRITISH & IRISH LIONS 15
As with the series, so with this draw. Regrets, they’ll each have a few, but the All Blacks will have more. At no stage did the Lions lead this match, and trailed it for 55 of them. Indeed, over the three Tests they only led for three minutes. But, like a dog with a bone, the All Blacks couldn’t shake them off.
Much like the tour and the series itself, this was a defiant draw against the odds which was hewn out of some wonderful rugby – think back to Sean O’Brien’s try of the series, and both tries in the second Test – brilliant defence and, perhaps most of all, sheer bloody-minded character.
Warren Gatland and the rest of the coaching staff had placed a high premium on character when picking this squad, and it shone through, as it had to, on this toughest of all tours.
The Lions matched the All Blacks for ambition and width in their running game, but didn’t have anyone with the ballast of Ngani Laumape and Julian Savea. Hence the All Blacks made six line breaks to one and left a host of tries behind but if nothing else the Lions were grittiness personified.
Nothing epitomised this more than in their scramble defence, right up to Liam Williams putting his body on the line to stop Jordie Barrett, with CJ Stander arriving before the cavalry came in from all sides to force him into touch. In that sense, this was a fitting finale.
Rewind also to that huge passage of play which reached a potentially match-turning and defining moment in the 12th minute.
When Owen Farrell opted for a looping skip pass to Anthony Watson rather than put it through the hands of Liam Williams and Beauden Barrett picked off the intercept, with Laumape and Savea in support, it looked a sure-fire try and 14-point turnover.
However, Williams turned and chased down Barrett. Then Jonathan Davies chased down Laumape, before Watson intercepted the offload for Savea. Better still, when Watson was tackled by Savea, Davies and Williams worked back to secure the ruck, as did Johnny Sexton, who was as brave and intelligent in his play as ever.
Admittedly, the All Blacks scored soon after when Beauden cross-kicked for Jordie to bat the ball down for Laumape. The younger Barrett also finished off a fine move when Laumape ran at Farrell and freed his hands to link with Anton Lienert-Brown.
But having missed three penalties the previous week and another early in this game, Beauden Barrett missed the conversion. That was another big moment. Had he landed it this would have pushed the All Blacks two scores clear at 14-6. Instead, the Lions went in at half-time still within a score, which was something of a result.
In addition to that Farrell intercept pass (7-0 and first blood would have been interesting), the Lions will have their laments too, particularly in the 10 minutes after Jerome Kaino was sin-binned for his high forearm hit into the face of Alun Wyn Jones in the 50th minute. Elliot Daly had trimmed the All Blacks’ lead to 12-9 and the All Blacks were starting to feel the pressure, a la the 2011 World Cup final here.
The Lions had three line-outs in those 10 minutes. With the first, they went to the tail, and Jamie George’s throw was crooked. With the next two, they opted for balls off the top to launch CJ Stander infield where the All Blacks had loaded up. Against seven forwards, they surely had to try at least one drive, if only to suck in the All Blacks. Maro Itoje had again been entrusted with calling the line-outs, and perhaps this showed his inexperience, although Sam Warburton or one of the leaders should have stepped in.
That said, Warburton has again been an outstanding tour captain, and aside from another big performance, Gatland’s decision to re-appoint him was never more vindicated than in the way he persuaded referee Romain Poite to revert to his TMO after that fateful 78th-minute restart.
Granted, this was to ostensibly check for the aerial challenge by Kieran Read, but whereas Read had been aggressively badgering Poite throughout the game, Warburton had maintained a more selective and respectful dialogue.
Like others, Warburton’s initial reaction at the full-time whistle was that extra time would follow. “I was ready for 20 minutes of extra time. I was trying to drink as many electrolytes as I could because I was cramping up, but then I realised everyone was shaking hands and I thought: ‘Oh, it’s a drawn series.’ You never think it is going to go down to that situation so I never looked into what would potentially happen.”
Given the choice, he’d have taken extra time. “I think it would have made for an amazing climax. I think it would be nice to see a winner.”
That said, he’ll always remember this series as a highlight of his career, and particularly the joint tugging of the trophy with Read and all the players taking up Kaino’s suggestion to mix and pose together. “It’s a little bit cheesy I guess but rugby was the winner,” he smiled.
He was also “honoured” to swap jerseys with Read after the first Test, while he has a second jersey to frame in his home along with the first Test from four years ago, namely his own from the second Test here.
“I only put winning shirts up,” said Warburton, and for that reason he’d still place the last tour as the bigger achievement, even if this was arguably the better one.
Warburton would like the players to be consulted about future Lions tours. “Speaking on behalf of the players, we’d always want the Lions to happen. I am sure most players would say the Lions is the most special thing you’ll do in your international career. I think it’s a must that the Lions should continue.”
Davies was voted by the players as the Lion of the Tour, a deserved accolade for a player who has retained the highest standards in completing six successive Tests, and emerging unbeaten over two series.
“I’m very humbled and chuffed to bits to get an award which is voted for by your peers. But when you look back it’s been a team effort with 40 odd players and we dug in. We achieved something very special.”
Davies also admitted: “After the first 20 minutes I felt the worst I’ve ever felt to be honest with you. It was a great comeback to grind out a draw in the end.”
“I’m proud of what we achieved. We’ve been put together quite quickly and we’ve come down to the best nation in the world and played well. I’d like to think we have done ourselves proud.”
That they have.
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).