Following on from a superb test match in Wellington, Auckland and Eden Park prepared for a deciding test match. The odds were stacked heavily in New Zealand favour despite the Lions snatching a win last time around and Warren Gatland naming an unchanged side from the victorious one. The All Blacks rung the changes with Julian Savea making his way back into the squad, Malakai Fekitoa made his return to international rugby on the bench and the 2 Hurricanes, Ngani Laumape and Jordie Barrett, both came in for their first ever starts. The Lions had exceeded expectations already by winning one test but could they smash past presumptions and take a series home?
All Blacks captain Kieran Read was making his 100th cap for his country so on his milestone occasion, he walked onto the hallowed turf of Eden Park alone. All of the spectators applauded and cheered and rightfully so as Read is turning himself into an All Blacks legend.
Read continued traditions as he stood at the front of the haka. TJ Perenara led the way while the Crusaders stood in the spotlight at the front.
Beauden Barrett had an awful kicking game last time out and needed to settle his nerves with a simple first kick of the match. He was given exactly that when the Lions infringed in front of the sticks. Barrett attempted a shot at goal from slap bang in front but shanked the ball and it curved wide. Poor kicking from the World Player of the Year 2016!
Nonetheless, like every game in this series, it was inevitably New Zealand who took the lead first. The Lions were looking extremely threatening and were working it down the right hand side through Owen Farrell. Farrell had no support but tried to throw a floating pass over the top. However, Beauden Barrett picked it off and began to sprint away. He was tackled on the 22 but offloaded to Ngani Laumape who began to scorch towards the line. He ran 60 metres but Jonathan Davies tracked back and tackled the centre who tried to offload but Anthony Watson stole the ball back for the Lions. The danger was then cleared by the boot but the Kiwis ran it straight back until they were awarded a penalty advantage. They had a free shot and Beauden Barrett crossed kicked the ball to his brother Jordie. The man on debut made no attempt to catch the ball, he just slap it back infield to Ngani Laumape who crashed over the line! Barrett converted to give New Zealand a 7-0 lead 15 minutes in.
Owen Farrell’s clinical goal kicking has been crucial to the Lions success on this tour and once again, the 25 year old converted a kick to give the tourists their first points. The Saracen then stepped up again with another kick and their was one singular point between the two sides.
With 5 minutes to go in the half, New Zealand added to their 1 point deficit courtesy of Ngani Laumape. The powerful centre made a half break but before he hit the deck, he pulled of a fantastic offload to Anton Lienert Brown. Lienert Brown skipped away and then found a beaut of a pass straight to Jordie Barrett who skated in. Two New Zealand debutants and two New Zealand debutant tries. It looked as if Steve Hansen had made a dream call!
HALF TIME NEW ZEALAND 12 – 6 BRITISH AND IRISH LIONS
On this tour, the Lions haven’t been able to utilise the long range kicking of Elliot Daly but when it mattered, they could. The Wasps and England utility back slammed the ball a whole 54 metres and it sailed through the uprights. What a monster!
The Lions had hauled themselves back to within 3 and were presented with a golden opportunity. Alun-Wyn Jones carried at the Kiwi line and in particular, Jerome Kaino. Kaino hit him very hard and the Welsh lock spilt the ball and dropped to the floor. He looked unconscious and referee Romain Poite asked for a closer inspection of the incident. Jerome Kaino had flown in and hit Jones around the neck with his forearm. Alun-Wyn fell down in a heap and definitely lost consciousness so he left the field for a HIA but it didn’t stop there. Poite reached to his pocket and showed the Blues back rower, Kaino, a yellow card! It was on the 50th minute but a crucial 10 minutes were to come in the course of the test series.
For the whole sin bin period there were no points on either side until there was only 15 seconds left before Kaino came back. The British and Irish Lions were awarded a penalty about 48 metres out. It was in the Lions half (near the halfway line) but the angle was extremely acute. Owen Farrell believed in his boot though and took responsibility. He struck it superbly and it climbed higher than the uprights and dissected perfectly through the middle! Farrell punched the air in delight and rightfully so! The scores were all square!
The scores were level pegging for a solid 10 minute of mainly Lions pressure but unfortunately the Lions could not capitalise. In fact, Beauden Barrett notched an easy penalty to push the British and Irish Lions backwards and the All Blacks forward.
The scoreboard read; 77 minutes New Zealand 15-12 Lions when the Kiwis conceded a penalty, this one longer than the last but Owen Farrell called for the tee again! With a blowof the cheeks and a few stares at the posts, Farrell stepped up to the ball and gave it a massive wallop. It flew and flew and travelled the 50 metres it needed to drop over the bar!!! Farrell must have ice running through his veins as under all of that pressure, he had still done what he needed to do!
No good test match can be contested without controversy and this match still had one more twist in the tail. Beauden Barrett kicked off towards Liam Williams and as the ball dropped from the sky, Kieran Read leaped up as well. Williams spilt the ball forwards and Ken Owens caught the ball from an offside position so Romain Poite awarded a penalty in favour of New Zealand! The Lions players disagreed which forced Polite to call for TMO. As soon as Owens caught the ball he realised his mistake and dropped it however, he had still attempted a catch. It seemed a good decision but Poite decided to change and turn the original penalty into a scrum for accidental offside. The Lions had fortunately escaped and Kieran Read met the decision to change with a frustrated ‘that’s not the rules’ however there was also a case to award the Lions a penalty. As Read chased the ball he jumped into the air but didn’t even look to make a catch, he had just deliberately collided with Williams. Maybe the decision was fair as both teams had made infringements. Sam Warburton and Owen Farrell’s leadership shone through as they had questioned the outcome and had beenrewarded. New Zealand weren’t happy but they did still have one final opportunity from the scrum…
The set piece was shaky and when the All Blacks failed to control the ball at the base, Rhys Webb nicked it and began to canter away! He tried to offload but Taulupe Faletau couldn’t keep hold and the Welsh number 8 spilt it forwards so there was to be one more scrum. The clock ticked into the red but the All Blacks were hammering away trying to get the series winning try. Malakai Fekitoa was making a huge impact his break gave New Zealand a superb opportunity. The ball was then spun wide to Jordie Barrett and the fullback began to accelerate towards the line. He made it close but Liam Williams tackled him to the floor very close to the touchline. Owen Farrell then flew in and piled Barrett into touch. The stadium went silent as they had just witnessed a draw! It was a crazy result and non of people in the stadium (including the players) knew what to make of it!
FULL TIME NEW ZEALAND 15-15 BRITISH AND IRISH LIONS
The trophy presentation came next with both captains holding the trophy aloft together. Afterwards all of the players grouped together in their different teams and took a picture. It was a moment to savour for all rugby fans and truly, despite there being no official winners, rugby has won. It has, been a superb test series which promoted rugby in all the best ways!