If a picture is worth a thousand words, the expression on Josh Lewsey's beaten-up face - imagine a cherub after 12 rounds with Joe Frazier and you'll be somewhere in the ballpark - represented the entire hardback edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. Asked to describe the feeling of being the last line of defence against one of the most potent back divisions ever witnessed in this game, he raised his eyes to the heavens, grimaced in the manner of a man suffering on the rack, swallowed hard and said ... nothing, as it happened. Lewsey is an unusually articulate sportsman, but even his vocabulary was insufficient.
Pressed again, he finally offered a thought or two. "When you're on the back foot against these people," pronounced the England full-back, "you're chasing shadows. It's not just the backs, though. That's the frightening thing. The All Blacks are a completely integrated, interactive side and they have given us a lesson in modern rugby. This doesn't mean they're unbeatable, but the way they're playing the game at the moment, possession equals tries.
"There will be some melodramatic stuff spoken and written about where this defeat leaves the sport in the British Isles and it would be unwise to buy into it, but right now, New Zealand are very definitely the best team in the world."
What happened to the Lions in the Wellington "Caketin" on Saturday made blame redundant. Sir Clive Woodward will spend the rest of this tour resembling St Sebastian, an archery target for every half-baked critic in Christendom intent on pincushioning him to within an inch of his life; Shane Williams will be slaughtered for bouncing off collisions like a dodgem car made by Matchbox; Paul O'Connell will be verbally kicked from here to kingdom come for messing up restarts on a serial basis; questions will be asked of Jonny Wilkinson's physical fitness on this trip, not to mention Gavin Henson's psychological fitness. But why bother? The tourists lost not because they were overpaid, overmanned and over here, but because they were overmatched.
They simply did not possess a Tana Umaga, a Sitiveni Sivivatu, an Aaron Mauger or a Richie McCaw, still less a Daniel Carter, who confirmed his status as the world's outstanding stand-off with a contribution so complete that it broke the boundaries of mere rugby and entered the realm of performance art. On the one hand, it is inconceivable that he will ever play as well again. On the other, it is blindingly obvious that he will only get better. Woodward described him as "special". Talk about an understatement.
Carter put two tries past the Lions, both of them sublime. The second of them, three minutes from the end of normal time, saw him maximise a big New Zealand overlap with the nonchalant ease of a born finisher - a step off the left foot to undo Lewsey, a finely calculated adjustment to his running angle to avoid Williams' attempted cover tackle, and a simple touch-down stripped of all ostentation. Yet it did not even begin to match the first, scored four minutes after the interval. Released wide on the right by an intelligent pass from Rodney So'oialo, Carter beat Lewsey with a left-footed grubber kick executed at such speed, and weighted so beautifully, that it was impossible not to stand and applaud.
As his goal-kicking had been near-perfect, his defensive work utterly secure and his game management way beyond anything achieved by any of the four Lions outside-halves (and one of them, Charlie Hodgson, has played exceptionally well here), his display was something to cherish.
Even had the Lions built on the clean-cut try scored by their new captain, the Welsh centre Gareth Thomas, within a couple of minutes of the kick-off; even had Dwayne Peel's 40-metre break ended with seven points in the bank rather than a fluffed pass to Simon Easterby; had O'Connell not surrendered a prime attacking position with a bovine indiscretion at the crucial ruck - there would have been no holding the All Blacks. They had too much of everything: pace, power, technique, dynamism, adventure. In the face of that, what could mere courage and commitment achieve?
This courage and commitment should not be dismissed, for the levels of both were far greater than in Christchurch seven days previously, when the Lions, poorly selected and horribly lacking in application, "shamed" themselves, to borrow Lewsey's description. Here, the eager newcomers among the élite - not least the remodelled back-row combination of Easterby, Lewis Moody and Ryan Jones - inspired the survivors from the first Test, most notably the much-criticised prop Julian White, to heights previously unscaled.
White gave Tony Woodcock an uncomfortable ride at the set piece, not to mention a good seeing-to in the second-half fight that erupted when the big Devonian applied his size 12s to the prone body of Byron Kelleher, the All Black scrum-half, who had made a nuisance of himself throughout by interfering with Lions' ball at the breakdowns.
Graham Henry, the New Zealand coach, took a dim view of the incident and made plenty of it afterwards. He should have saved his breath. In a do-or-die match of this nature, no self-respecting forward would dream of letting such misdemeanours go unpunished, even if the referee - in this case, the less than accomplished Andrew Cole of Australia - is of a mind to turn a blind eye.
But with the likes of Williams badly exposed in the defensive areas and Henson disappearing from view the moment the All Blacks completed their "haka" - both men were culpable in Umaga's long-range try towards the end of the first quarter, while Williams was nowhere near strong enough to prevent Sivivatu finishing off a blinding back-line move seven minutes shy of the interval - the result was a foregone conclusion long before the last knockings. Even when Williams managed to bring a New Zealander to earth rather than ride on his back like a white-booted Lester Piggott, the benefit was strictly limited. The little wing managed to tackle Carter just short of the line in injury time, only to find himself blown away by McCaw as the flanker claimed the final points.
Never before had the Lions leaked so many points in a Test; only once, against the silver-ferned brigade in Auckland in 1983, had they been on the painful end of so great a points margin.
This was the measure of the New Zealand performance. Woodward, who had spent a year of his life planning this assault on the ultimate, may have felt bewildered by the scale of his failure, but he was entirely accurate when, during his post-match summing-up, he admitted that there was nothing more his side could have done.
Having failed to suggest in the opening Test - the game that should have been theirs to win - that they knew how to prevail, they did not have a snowball's chance in hell this time. The Lions were better, far better, than they had been in the South Island badlands of Canterbury. But being better and being good enough are two different things. Suffice to say that when the Lions return to these shores in 12 years' time, they will do so neither in hope nor expectation.
NEW ZEALAND: M Muliaina (Auckland); R Gear (Nelson Bays), T Umaga (Wellington, capt), A Mauger (Canterbury), S Sivivatu (Waikato); D Carter (Canterbury), B Kelleher (Waikato); A Woodcock (North Harbour), K Mealamu (Auckland), G Somerville (Canterbury), C Jack (Canterbury), A Williams (Auckland), J Collins (Wellington), R McCaw (Canterbury), R So'oialo (Wellington). Replacements: L MacDonald (Canterbury) for Mauger, 40; J Marshall (Canterbury) for Kelleher, 71; S Lauaki (Waikato) for Collins, 71; D Witcombe (Auckland) for Mealamu, 78; M Nonu (Wellington) for Sivivatu, 80; J Gibbes (Waikato) for Jack, 80.
BRITISH AND IRISH LIONS: J Lewsey (England); J Robinson (England), G Thomas (Wales, capt), G Henson (Wales), S Williams (Wales); J Wilkinson (England), D Peel (Wales); G Jenkins (Wales), S Thompson (England), J White (England), P O'Connell (Ireland), D O'Callaghan (Ireland), S Easterby (Ireland), L Moody (England), R Jones (Wales). Replacements: G Rowntree (England) for White, 61; S Jones (Wales) for Wilkinson, 65; White for Jenkins, 65; S Horgan (Ireland) for Henson, 78; S Byrne (Ireland) for Thompson, 80.
Referee: A Cole (Australia)
The red and the black: Which Lions would make a composite XV
* Before the tour began, six Lionscould have been considered good enough for the All Blacks' XV:
* JOSH LEWSEY
Pound for pound, the best back in the British Isles in the run-up to the tour. Picked out of position in the first Test, he was given the run-around by Daniel Carter in the second.
* BRIAN O'DRISCOLL
The one back who might truly belong in an All Black selection was dumped out of the tour by an illicit tackle 40 seconds into the opening Test, but had not shown his best anyway.
* GETHIN JENKINS
The kind of prop New Zealand were not supposed to have and a star of the Six Nations Championship, but if the Lions had their time again, they might have gone for Andy Sheridan.
* PAUL O'CONNELL
The big Munsterman had the words "Lions enforcer" stamped all over him, but an error-strewn display in Wellington rules him out.
* RICHARD HILL
Had the Saracens flanker been in his pomp, no All Black selector would have swapped him. His suspect knee broke down when he tried to play in top gear.
* LAWRENCE DALLAGLIO
The Lions' conscience, Dallaglio meant the world to Sir Clive Woodward and the rest of the coaching team. The No 8 played magnificently in the opening 15 minutes against Bay of Plenty. Then, he was gone. For good.
* The team before the tour: J Lewsey (England); D Howlett, B O'Driscoll (Ireland), T Umaga, J Rokocoko; D Carter, J Marshall; G Jenkins (Wales), A Oliver, C Hayman, C Jack, P O'Connell (Ireland), R Hill (England), R McCaw, L Dallaglio (England)
* After two crushing Test defeats, that number is down to one:
* RYAN JONES
The revelation of the tour, if not its saviour. The Welshman's energetic efforts after he replaced Simon Taylorput him ahead of Rodney So'oialo.
* The team now: L MacDonald; R Gear, T Umaga, A Mauger, S Sivivatu; D Carter, J Marshall; A Woodcock, K Mealamu, C Hayman, C Jack, A Williams, J Collins, R McCaw, R Jones (Wales)
By Chris HewettReuse content