The British and Irish Lions went into the third test against the All Blacks at Eden Park, Auckland with a huge belief in their own ability and also with the knowledge that they had already beaten their opponents in the second test at the Westpac Stadium in Wellington. Yet they knew the All Blacks would come back even stronger for the series decider.
In the first half, the Lions looked like succumbing to the All Black pressure, conceding two tries from the marauding Hurricanes backs of Ngani Laumape and Jordie Barrett. Yet the All Blacks squandered other opportunities they had and Beauden Barrett the All Black fly-half missed a few kicks which could have stretched their lead.
Two minutes into the second half, Elliot Daly with his huge boot, nailed a kick between the posts from over 50 metres to make it 12-9 as the Lions looked to assert early pressure on the All Blacks. Alun Wyn Jones was smashed in the head by Jerome Kaino and the Kiwi got 10 minutes in the bin. During that period the All Blacks managed to withstand pressure from the Lions until conceding 3 points from Owen Farrell who drew the Lions level at 12-12.
With just over 10 minutes remaining, the All Blacks won a penalty on the Lions' 22 from the scrum, Barrett kicked and the score was now 15-12 to the All Blacks. The Lions looked for a reply and with the replacements making some big carries, they eventually won a penalty close to the halfway line in the last 5 minutes and Farrell's composure shone through once again as he slotted it through to level the match at 15-15. As the All Blacks looked for a winner, bearing down on the Lions line, they were forced into touch and the series was declared a draw.
In those 80 mins at Eden Park, the Lions made history. Not since 1971 had a team denied the All Blacks a series victory. The All Blacks team themselves captained by Kieran Read can boast arguably one of the greatest sides ever, so for the Lions to tie the series makes it all the more remarkable.
Is this our greatest Lions team yet? Certainly you could argue the case.
The mixture of experience and youthful talent in Gatland's Lions side made them a tough and versatile opponent for the All Blacks.
The player of the series went to Jonathan Davies. I thought his performance in all 3 tests was outstanding. The final in particular where he made two huge tackles on the brilliant Jordie Barrett and a lung busting try saving tackle on Laumape from an interception.
Other notable performances included the 'The Tullow tank' flanker, Sean O'Brien who physically imposed himself throughout and made some huge carries until coming off injured in the final test. Prop, Tadhg Furlong who was monstrous both in the scrum and on the loose and Taulupe Faletau at 8, whose powerful carrying off the base of scrums and try in the 2nd test marked a shift in momentum for The Lions.
The team moment of the tour is arguably the Lions' first try against the All Blacks in the 1st test. It was sparked by a moment of brilliance from the Welsh full back Liam Williams, who broke from his own 22 with a drop of the shoulder, setting up O'Brien for a fine Lions team move which evoked memories of the legendary Barbarians try against the All Blacks in '73.
The future looks rosy for the Lions with the potential of Maro Itoje, cited as a Lions captain for the future. He more than lived up to the promise, delivering a huge performance in his carrying, tackling and lineout work. He was also a huge vocal presence in the team and he like most others relished every moment in that jersey.
Amongst the Lions players who I feel was unlucky not to get a place in the test team was Iain Henderson. He delivered a thunderous performance against Super Rugby side The Hurricanes who struggled to manage his carrying and work rate at the breakdown. The strength in depth that the Lions had was evident in the difficulty of finding test places for a host of world class players which included the likes of Henderson, Dan Cole, Jonathan Joseph and Dan Biggar.
Ultimately, this Lions team will be remembered in history as being a team that held the All Blacks and put a dent in their near immaculate record in matches on their own turf. They may not have matched the achievement of the '71 Lions but against an arguably revolutionised All Blacks they were a team who came, who challenged and who almost conquered. A team that silenced the naysayers and made a compelling case that the Lions tour is as strong an entity as it ever was and should play a significant part in rugby union for years to come.Suggest a correction