The British and Irish Lions came up agonisingly short in their bid to beat the All Blacks for the first time since 1971 after a pulsating third Test ended 15-15, leaving the three-Test series drawn.
The All Blacks can only blame themselves not winning this series, as Steve Hansen’s side spurned four obvious chances to score, though they did get back to playing the beautiful rugby that they are renowned for with tries through the brilliant Ngani Laumape and Jordie Barrett, both of whom dazzled on their first international starts.
But the Lions were able to keep in touch thanks to the boot of Owen Farrell and a sweetly struck long-range effort from Elliot Daly. After 240 minutes of breath-taking, absorbing rugby, there was no splitting the two sides, and while Warren Gatland’s squad do not return home as winners, they certainly are not losers.
These matches are called Tests for a reason. The first 10 minutes were about as frantic as rugby can get, with both sides butchering chances in chaotic end-to-end rugby. It would come to be the story of the game, with the All Blacks doing everything right except finish off the tries.
The recalled wing, Julian Savea, was guilty of wasting the first opportunity, and what an opportunity it was. The chance came after Beauden Barrett missed a relatively easy kick at goal, yet it would be the fly-half who created the chance. Spinning the ball left to brother Jordie, the full-back fed Savea with clear space ahead, only for the Hurricanes back to fumble the ball into touch.
The Lions were just as guilty though. A fantastic break down the left that was manufactured by Maro Itoje and Elliot Daly, with the former passed out to the latter, who returned the ball smartly inside, and the surging run put the All Blacks on the ropes five metres from their line. With numbers wide, the ball came right, but Farrell was guilty of throwing an unnecessary miss-pass that Jordie Barrett read and intercepted. He broke clear, offloaded to Laumape, but Jonathan Davies was on hand to chase back and make the crucial tackle that defused the move.
It would not take much longer for the wall to be breached though, and the Barrett brothers were at the heart of it. Beauden swept left around the ruck, passed the ball to Jordie, and his offload allowed Laumape to go over comfortably.
The Lions got themselves on the board with a penalty when Beauden Barrett failed to roll away, with Owen Farrell taking the three points, before the All Blacks spurned not one but two chances. The first came when another cross-field kick that was well taken by Savea saw him break when Farrell mis-read the dummied offload, only for Same Cane to knock the ball on, and the second produced the same result when Laumape charged towards the line.
This allowed the Lions back into the game, and when Anton Lienert-Brown illegally took the ball from the ruck, Farrell duly took the penalty on offer to reduce the lead to one point, though it would not last long. In the 36th minute, Beauden Barrett fed Laumape who crashed through the line, and his majestic offload to Lienert-Brown allowed the centre to release Jordie Barrett to score.
Beauden Barrett’s conversion made it 12-6 at the break, but the All Blacks undone their good work immediately when the restart failed to go 10 metres and Read gave away a penalty for taking out Liam Williams off the ball. The skipper, winning his 100th cap for the All Blacks, may have thought the indiscretion was out of range, but he was wrong. Up stepped Elliot Daly, the man who this week insisted he was ready if needed to step up for long-rang penalties, and his 55 metre effort just cleared the upright to reduce the deficit.
The Lions had their tails up, and when the All Blacks spurned another chance to score when Jordie Barrett’s pass to Savea was hurled forwards with the line at his mercy, the tourists marched back up the other end of the field to draw a penalty out of Brodie Retallick, with the lock catching replacement Courtney Lawes with a high tackle. Farrell kicked the penalty to level the scores, and things got even better for Gatland’s side when Jerome Kaino was sent to the sin-bin for a swinging arm to the head of Alun Wyn Jones.
However, the Lions were not able to capitalise, and when Kyle Sinckler collapsed a scrum soon after replacing Tadhg Furlong, Beauden Barrett nudges the All Blacks back into the lead. The Lions would not lie down though, and when Wyatt Crockett was trapped at the bottom of the ruck, referee Romain Poite awarded the Lions a penalty that Farrell kicked beautifully to level the score at 15-15.
Chaos would return as the clock ticked red, with Poite awarding New Zealand a penalty to win the game, only to review the decision with the TMO and decide the infringement, which saw Ken Owens accidentally offside, merited a scrum, not a lineout. The All Blacks went for broke, but when the ball was shoved into touch by the right corner flag, the series ended in a frustrating draw and no one in Auckland quite knew what to do.
New Zealand: Jordie Barrett; Israel Dagg, Anton Lienert-Brown, Ngani Laumape (Malakai Fekitoa, 67), Julian Savea (Aaron Cruden, 73); Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith (TJ Perenara, 60); Joe Moody (Nathan Harris, 73), Codie Taylor (Nathan Harris, 73), Owen Franks (Charlie Faumuina, 58); Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock (Scott Barrett, 78); Jerome Kaino, Sam Cane (Ardie Savea, 60), Kieran Read.
British and Irish Lions: Liam Williams; Anthony Watson (Jack Nowell, 73), Jonathan Davies, Owen Farrell, Elliot Daly; Jonathan Sexton (Ben Te’o, 73), Conor Murray (Rhys Webb, 69); Mako Vunipola (Jack McGrath, 60), Jamie George (Ken Owens, 70), Tadhg Furlong (Kyle Sinckler, 60); Maro Itoje, Alun Wyn Jones (Courtney Lawes, 50); Sam Warburton, Sean O’Brien (CJ Stander, h-t), Taulupe Faletau.
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