The All Blacks and British and Irish Lions played out a dramatic 15-all draw in the third and final Test to draw the series.
The ABs scored the only two tries of the match – both in the first half, to first-time starters Ngani Laumape and Jordie Barrett – but were generally wasteful with the ball in hand after dominating territory and possession in the opening 40 minutes.
Faultless goalkicking from the Lions saw them eventually draw level with only a few minutes to go, before a bewildering decision reversal from French referee Romain Poite robbed the hosts of a chance to kick for victory in the dying seconds from handy position.
Correctly ruling an offside penalty against the Lions, Poite then conferred with the TMO – who confirmed the decision was correct – before inexplicably overturning it to an accidental offside call, and a scrum rather than a penalty to the New Zealanders.
Although Poite was a convenient – and deserving – target for Kiwi fans’ vitriol, there’s no doubt their indomitable team was well below its usual top-shelf standards, and a draw was arguably a fair result given the way the gritty tourists hung in the game.
After 10 games in just over a month for the tourists, here are the five key takeaways from the last game of the 2017 Lions tour of New Zealand.
Gatland’s men will go down in history
One point away from being just the second British and Irish Lions side ever to emerge victorious from a Test series against New Zealand, and the first since 1971, this team will still go down as one of the best to reach the land of the long white cloud.
Since they started touring New Zealand way back in 1904, this is second-best result the Lions have achieved against the All Blacks in 12 trips, following on from their 2-1 series victory in 1971.
Starting media duties. 😃
— British&Irish Lions (@lionsofficial) July 8, 2017
It also means coach Warren Gatland joins Sir Ian McGeechan as the most successful multi-tour coach the Lions have ever had, with his drawn series New Zealand coming on the back of a 2-1 victory over Australia in 2013.
McGeechan still holds overall honours, though, with the Scotsman having led the Lions on no fewer than four tours, spanning three decades, with a pair of series wins to show for it.
For the record this was the second time the Lions have drawn a series, with the only other occasion coming against South Africa in 1955.
Draw will do nothing for All Blacks
They say a draw is like kissing your sister, but let’s just say for the All Blacks it’s as good as losing when you look at this tied series.
The world champs created myriad chances – particularly in the first half – but handling errors frequently let them down. An inability to hang onto the pill made it impossible for them to build any pressure in a nerve-shredding second stanza.
Such was the arrogance of most New Zealand media, and many fans ahead of hosting their foes from the Northern Hemisphere, anything other than a 3-0 whitewash victory was almost inconceivable before the tour started.
That’s why this drawn series will ultimately be deemed a failure from a New Zealand point of view.
Things that apparently cannot lose fairly.
1. Manny Pacquiao
2. All Blacks
— PaperKicker (@CaqePepa_Inc) July 8, 2017
Lions had a golden chance
Moments make games, and it’s hard to overlook the fact that the British and Irish Lions probably blew their opportunity to strike a killer blow to the All Blacks midway through the second half.
With Jerome Kaino in the sin bin and their opponents on the back foot, the Lions coughed up key errors to ensure they came away with nothing from their period with a numerical advantage.
“Nah, bro.” (Photo / Brett Phibbs) pic.twitter.com/VQYweDFLL2
— Kris Shannon (@kshanz) July 8, 2017
In positive territory the tourists knocked on, dropped a ball over the sideline and produced a forward pass between Anthony Watson and Liam Williams between minutes 50 and 60.
The latter error saw close to three minutes chewed off the clock as scrums were reset numerous times, and overall it’s probably a period the Lions will look back on and wonder what could have been.
Clutch kicks rescue Lions
Cometh the hour, cometh the super-boots.
Twice the Lions relied on spectacular penalty goals in high-pressure situations to put them in a position to be at 15-all come time for the fat lady’s song.
Elliot Daly’s penalty goal just minutes into the second half was a screamer. Struck from inside his own half, it would have been well over 50 metres when you factored in the angle, but the English wing struck it straight and true to pull his side back to within three points at the time.
1. a large, heavy piece of artillery, typically mounted on wheels.
2. Elliot Daly’s left boot. pic.twitter.com/3RqAwOKLxe
— bet365 (@bet365) July 8, 2017
Fast forward to the 78th minute and similar situation, even more pressure, as Owen Farrell eyed off the chance to draw his side level and made no mistake.
It wasn’t the first time on the tour the Lions’ stellar kicking cast had lifted them to a key result, and both Daly and Farrell’s calm under pressure was a joy to watch on Saturday night.
Some cool as a cucumber kicking from Owen Farrell and the siege gun Elliot Daly this morning 🙂 #LionsNZ2017
— Shaun Richards (@notayesmansecon) July 8, 2017
New faces shine for Hansen
The immediate future of New Zealand rugby got their chance on Saturday night, and stood up big time for coach Steve Hansen.
Ngani Laumape and Jordie Barrett both starred for the All Blacks, with the pair playing direct roles in the opening two tries.
How good have Laumape and Jordie Barrett been tonight? #NZLvBIL
— Lee Stace (@LeeMichaelStace) July 8, 2017
It was Barrett’s clever bat-back – in the process of being hit by Liam Williams – which led to Laumape scoring the opening try of the match, and 19 minutes later Laumape would return the favour.
— Tom Hamilton (@tomESPNscrum) July 8, 2017
Laumape laid on a lovely offload in directly in the lead up to Barrett’s try, showcasing excellent awareness and skill execution.
Fullback Barrett finished the match with a try assist and 76 run metres to go with his five-pointer, while Laumape had five runs for 68 metres.