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September 22, 2017
Friday, July 14, 2017

All Blacks v Lions clash lives up to hype

By Frankie Deges / Rugby column

It was all that everybody thought it would be. And probably even more.

The third and final game of the All Blacks v British & Irish Lions series had all the drama that the more than 20,000 fans that ventured, dressed in their red jerseys, to New Zealand had hoped for.

The final minutes were as tense as you will get at the highest level. That the game ended in a 15-all draw has to be seen as a win for a Lions side that in the eyes of most stood very little chances of upsetting the best team in the world in their own backyard.

Ten games were all Warren Gatland had to gel the best players from England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. With the first test coming 21 days after the opening game, the coach needed some magic or preconceived ideas on who to select for the three games that really mattered.

The tour was the toughest you can imagine three tests, games against each of Super Rugby franchises (wins against Crusaders and Chiefs, losses against the Blues and Highlanders, a draw with defending champions Hurricanes), a first game against the NZ Barbarians (close win) and the NZ Maori (win).

The opening test saw the All Blacks win 30-15 and as the score reflects, they were better, much better, than the Lions, maintaining their unbeaten home record stretching back to 2009.

A shoulder charge by Sonny Bill Williams merited the third-ever sending off of an All Black; playing 15 against 14 at this level and for almost an hour was sufficient advantage for the Lions that managed a much-celebrated 24-21 win.

This set the mouthwatering deciding test at Eden Park, a venue where the All Blacks had not lost since 1994!

It was all that was expected. In such a cauldron, the All Blacks threw in two new players in full back Jordie Barrett (whose two older brothers were also involved in the game) and Ngani Laumape as it happened, they scored the game’s only two tries. It is scary to think how many more youngsters are lying in the wings waiting to taking their chances as these two did.

Kieran Read led the All Blacks in his 100th test and had another sterling game yet by the end of it, he’d became only the second All Black captain not to win a series against the Lions. He joins the great Colin Meads, who lost in 1971. If anything, Read shared the series, but given the circumstances and the high expectations placed on the All Blacks, it is seen as a loss.

The final five minutes were incredibly tense and had their piece of controversy. Owen Farrell kicked his side’s fifth penalty in the 77th minute to draw the game and the All Blacks knew they had to score straight away.

The pinpoint kick-off was challenged and a series of situations occurred that will be debated for years. Fact is the outcome lay on referee Romain Poite, whose decision could have gone either way.

In such a charged moment, with so much hanging on his decision, both teams were extremely well-behaved.

That alone was a great advertisement of our sport’s values.

 

@frankiedeges

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