Mark Reason: Third test thriller between All Blacks and Lions a game played in heaven

Both teams peered into the void as the ferocity of the final test match between the All Blacks and the Lions shook the ground and our hearts. And yet still there were moments of skill to dazzle this dark corner of New Zealand.

Dark, because of all the black shirts in the stand. Dark, because of the fears that so many fans carried into this match. And so often games like this just cannot live up to the absurdity of the expectation. But this match – a 15-15 draw that saw the series shared 1-1 – will stand as one of the great tests in the history of the Lions in New Zealand.

NIGEL MARPLE/REUTERS
Maro Itoje was again outstanding in a brutal and brilliant test match.

Of course there were bundles of mistakes. It is almost impossible not to throw the odd bad pass when Brodie Retallick or Maro Itoje is intent on crushing your skeleton until it squeaks. Both locks were colossal for their respective sides and are going to have many a great battle down the years.

And to begin with the intensity of the collisions was all too much and the jitters jumped between the stands and the pitch. Beauden Barrett hooked his first kick at goal horribly and the bank of red behind the posts stood and cheered. Julian Savea dropped a pass that he could have caught as a 3-year-old.

Were they bothered? Well, probably, but they just got on with it and then played some footy from another world. Savea ran over the top of Liam Williams, and your mind went back to Jonah Lomu putting Mike Catt through the tumble dryer all those years ago in a World Cup semi in South Africa.

Beauden Barrett crucially intercepted Owen Farrell when the Lions were pressing for the early score. Farrell has not enhanced his reputation and his passing off his left hand was dreadful. He cost the Lions two possible tries with bad passes to his left. Big players play the big moments.

But the nerves just added to the thrill of it all. The All Blacks could have put the game away in the first half when their scrum monstered the Lions off the ball. Number eight pick up, five metres to go, accuracy was all that was needed. But Aaron Smith’s pass did not understand the line that Beauden Barrett was taking and the chance was fumbled.

At the start of the second half the All Blacks again caught a wind shift and had a chance to sail away. It was a joy to see them finally play some rugby and they had a lot of success with changes of direction and deeper runners. They also held the Lions defence with some early cross kicks.

So when Jordie Barrett spun towards the outside he had Savea in the clear and the series in his hands. But the Lions just squeezed him too hard and the 20-year-old could not keep his pass from going forwards. Sit down, everyone, it’s not a try but there’s so much more to come.

More to come from this game and more to come from young Jordie. In the first half he finished one try on the outside when Ngani Laumape made a half break and Anton Lienert-Brown showed the Lions how to pass. And he set up another when he used his height to tap down for Laumape to score.

New Zealand had their moments, and so many of them were beautiful, but the All Blacks can also been an ugly team at times when threatened. We saw that last week with SBW and we saw it again when Jerome Kaino hit Alun Wyn Davies in the jaw with a straight arm. The people in front of me spat out juices of abuse, but the officials were entirely correct to issue a yellow card.

And so the Lions came back into the game and there were so many impossible outcomes to decide. The man of the series? For me a dead heat between Conor Murray and Brodie Retallick. The next All Blacks coach? Warren Gatland won’t get the job, but he can be proud of how his teams have played on this tour.

But those things are for another day perhaps. This was a night when sport put a magnifying glass on the human spirit and showed just how magnificent it can be.

– 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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