It was epic, it was enthralling and in the end you just could not separate the two teams. Make no mistake despite the draw this was an incredible achievement by the British & Irish Lions against all the odds.
I am sure like me you heard a lot of people asserting confidently that the Lions would be taken apart by the Super 18 sides and would be lucky to win a game. Well they did more than win a few games. The actual tour record is impressive. Played 10 Won 5, Drew 2 and Lost 3. Another interesting little stat is that in no single game did a New Zealand team score a try bonus and in two games including the 2nd Test they did not score at all. Take a bow Andy Farrell who must take credit for moulding four nations into such a tight defensive unit.
The final test match was awesome in so many ways. The All Blacks were unbelievably fired up and looked like there were on a mission to wipe out the Wellington defeat and crush the Lions. In the first half it looked like they were going to succeed as they played with incredible intensity and pace but they just couldn’t quite shake off an equally fired up Lions team. Despite scoring a couple of wonderful tries the AB were making mistakes. Undoubtedly they were feeling the pressure of the game – those missed opportunities and dropped balls so uncharacteristic of the New Zealanders were caused by the Lions incredible defensive pressure.
When we went in a half time somehow we had kept in touch and the AB were certainly not out of sight. Then during the second half you sensed a change in momentum and when Kaino was sin-binned the AB seemed to feel the pressure even more. Although Farrell made too many errors in open play his kicking was flawless and nerveless and how good was that monster penalty kick from Elliott Daly! With the clock ticking down and at 15-15 it was one of the most tense and dramatic of sporting moments. And then the penalty for offside. How unbelievably difficult would it have been to for the Lions to lose the series based on an accidental offside. Mind you Beauden Barrett still had to nail it between the posts and we will never know whether he could have held his nerve to slot such a crucial penalty. As for whether the penalty should have been given or not in our wonderful, complex game penalties are often an interpretation and teams sometimes benefit and sometimes lose from it. I do think if that incident had happened earlier in the game Poite would not have changed his mind and it would have been a clear penalty even though the technicalities could still be argued no one would be talking about it.
At the final whistle a draw felt fitting with the Lions managing to go toe to toe with unarguably the best team in the world. The All Blacks had to really step up in this series. I know the fans were expecting a fairly easy series win but I am sure the players and coaches understood the strength of this Lions squad and it was a real challenge for them. It was a lovely moment when the two captains jointly lifted the cup and then the two teams mingled together for the photos.
There was a lot of discussion about whether extra time should be played but if after three brutal tests you can’t separate the sides then I think it is fine. It is also complicated by the fact if the 2nd test in Wellington had been a draw and the Lions had won the 3rd it would still have been a drawn series with one win each.
A final word too for the Lions fans. What a noise, what an atmosphere they generated. To be in that stadium for the last test and feel like you were at a Lions home game said it all and I found it spine-tingling. The red shirts were everywhere and the singing and chanting relentless. An hour after the game finished with the home fans long gone they were still in fine voice. The Lions tours are a magnificent tradition beloved by players, fans, sponsors and broadcasters and the great AB captain Sean Fitzpatrick was even moved to say he felt ‘jealous’ of the Lions players as in New Zealand they have nothing comparable.
So there it ends for another 4 years. It’s one of the most romantic sporting adventures in the world and we must all make sure we do everything possible to make sure the magic of the British & Irish Lions lives on.
And now we enter the dysmal couple of months that bring us no rugby entertainment in the Northern hemisphere. Roll on pre-season. Roll on September!