All Blacks and Lions end third test – and 2017 series – in a draw

We came to celebrate, but it ended in stalemate. Would you believe it? In the most controversial of circumstances, the All Blacks and British and Irish Lions could not be separated in a dramatic final, deciding test at Eden Park.

At the end of a pulsating encounter referee Romain Poite had the major say we all feared he might, but not in the manner we suspected.

After reviewing a decision to award a late, kickable penalty to the All Blacks with less than two minutes on the clock, he downgraded it to just a scrum for accidental offside, and the Lions were able to escape with a 15-15 draw that left this brilliant series, for the first time in history, tied.

On a night when these two fine sides could not be separated, the series also ends that way. In many ways, given the epic nature of the final encounter, it is a result that cannot be disputed.

Yet it will be. How could Poite change his decision when the video replay clearly showed replacement hooker Ken Owens had been in front of Liam Williams when he spilled the ball forward from the kickoff? But he did.

It was as if he decided he did not want this match to end on that note, after Lions superboot Owen Farrell had drilled his second 48-metre penalty to level the scores at 15-15 just moments earlier.

The All Blacks had a sniff in the final seconds, and rookie sensation Jordie Barrett went close in the right corner, but the Lions somehow held on.

What a third, and final, deciding test we had at this fortress of a ground for the All Blacks where they still haven’t lost since 1994 (though that 38-test win streak is now over). It was epic. It was tense. It was all things that rugby at this level should be. The sellout crowd of just shy of 50,000, forming a sea of red and black, were split seemingly equally in their vociferous support.

The Lions did not shrink beneath the glare of the big moment either. They could not manage a try. But they kicked their goals (five from five) and were good enough to deny the All Blacks the victory they worked so hard for.

So, Kieran Read’s 100th test ends not in the victory he deserved. Nor the 50th, and last, for Charlie Faumuina and Aaron Cruden.

And surprise starters Jordie Barrett and Ngani Laumape are denied the result their outstanding performances probably deserved.

The first 40 was all about tempo for the All Blacks, who did everything they could at pace, and with withering intent. Frustrated at their lack of ambition last week in Wellington, they weren’t going to die wondering in this deciding matchup.

So they went quickly at lineout time, from the ruck, and on any other occasion they could, and had the Lions in back-pedal mode through much of the opening half. The visitors had a couple of sniffs, but it was the New Zealanders who created the, er, lion’s share of the chances, and took a deserved 12-6 lead into the sheds with the only two tries of the half.

They were both sublime examples of how good these All Blacks are when they are able to play their game of pace, skill and withering execution.

That they both went to rookie starting debutants whom Hansen had taken (supposedly) such a risk in selecting really said it all about both the coach’s smarts and the natural ability he has at his disposal.

In fact, you couldn’t keep second five-eighths Laumape and fullback Jordie Barrett out of this test. They might not be rich in experience, but they are in talent and self-belief. Just a couple of minutes after a Beauden Barrett intercept just failed to put Laumape clear away, the Barrett-Laumape combination struck with magical efficacy. Under advantage, Beauden Barrett’s crosskick looked just a little over-cooked, but his 20-year-old brother soared high to tap the ball infield to Laumape who was across for the opening try, and a 7-0 lead.

Then four minutes from the break, with the Lions having eked the deficit back to just a point, the New Zealanders struck again with another sublimely executed attack. Brodie Retallick started it with the charge from the middle of the lineout, then Laumape rolled out a fabulous offload in the tackle to Anton Lienert-Brown whose pinpoint wide pass gave Jordie Barrett all the space he needed for the easiest of five-pointers.

The All Blacks could have had more, but crucial handling lapses at key moments denied them the chance to build a buffer.

But the Lions weren’t going anywhere after halftime. First Elliot Daly banged over a 54-metre penalty, then they went a man up for 10 minutes when Jerome Kaino was yellow carded for a forearm to the head of Alun Wyn Jones on the carry.

To the All Blacks’ credit they have some form playing with 14, and leaked only a 48m penalty to Own Farrell to level the scores at 12-12, which was right when Kaino returned to restore parity.

From there it was a tightrope walk to the finish. A penalty more apiece, and the night ended with neither team able to truly celebrate. But perhaps it was a night when rugby should, for two fine teams had played themselves into the ground, and simply could not be separated.

All Blacks 15 (Ngani Laumape, Jordie Barrett tries; Beauden Barrett pen, con), British & Irish Lions 15 (Owen Farrell 4 pens; Elliot Daly pen). Ht: 12-6.

– Stuff

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About Martin Myers
Music Supervisor / Artist and Talent Manager / Publicist / Music Exchange Founder / Owner Triple M Entertainment

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