So after all the excitement and anticipation that came before the match that was to decide the series victors, it all ended in something of an anti-climax. A tense 15-15 draw between the All Blacks and the Lions resulted in a tied series, the first since 1955. The reactions between both camps at the end told the story, with neither side unsure of how to handle such a surreal outcome. Having been 12-6 down at the break following an All Blacks attacking onslaught in the first half, the British & Irish Lions produced a stirring response in the second-half to come back and save the series, whilst New Zealand were left to rue missed opportunities and letting another lead slip by in an enthralling final test match.
Error-strewn All Blacks made to pay for missed chances
Having surrendered a nine-point lead in Wellington to lose the second test a week before, the All Blacks were desperate to finish the job at Eden Park. After a shaky start that saw Beauden Barrett miss a penalty shot at goal, the hosts soon came to life with Jordie Barrett intercepting an Owen Farrell pass deep in All Blacks territory before mounting a length-of-the field counter-attack that saw Lions centre Jonathan Davies eventually bring down Ngani Laumape just inside the Lions 22. The Lions scrambled back in defence to clear their lines but New Zealand were soon back in possession in their opponents half and opened the scoring with a well-executed try. The Barrett brothers, Beauden and Jordie, have been ripping defences to shreds in Super Rugby for the Hurricanes this season and starting an international test match for the first time together the two soon linked up to devastating effect. Over the course of the first two tests, Warren Gatland’s side had done an impressive job in keeping Beauden Barrett quiet in attack however following good work from the New Zealand pack in edging closer to the Lions try-line with some forceful carries, the All Blacks fly-half reminded everyone of his great footballing qualities with a trademark kick-pass out wide that was gladly received by little brother Jordie who in turn expertly popped a pass infield for centre Ngani Laumape to register his first test try. With New Zealand bossing the territory and possession you might have expected the floodgates to open but despite the All Blacks domination, a number of handling errors let the men in black down. With try-scoring chances few and far between for the tourists, it was up to Owen Farrell to bring the Lions back into the contest which he duly did with two penalties to reduce the All Blacks lead to one point with a little under ten minutes to half-time. By now the Lions looked to have weathered the storm in defence but there was still time for New Zealand to go again, and quick work from a line-out just inside the Lions half saw Beauden Barrett release Laumape before the All Blacks no.12 pulled off a sumptuous offload to centre partner Anton Lienert-Brown who then gave a pass to Jordie Barrett to run in unopposed for a debut try. Having enjoyed much domination in attack in the first-half without really pulling away from their opponents, the second-half saw the All Blacks struggle to break through a more-resolute Lions defence and on the rare occasions when they did break through a lack of control and execution was their undoing and ultimately proved costly.
Lions marksmen hit the bulls-eye
If there was one negative for New Zealand throughout the test series it was their goal-kicking. The first signs of this potential weakness were seen in the second test in Wellington where Beauden Barrett missed three penalty shots at goal that proved costly as the Lions won by three points to level the series up at one-apiece, and the same problems returned to haunt Barrett in the first half at Eden Park with a missed penalty and conversion. In contrast one of the main reasons the Lions had stayed in contention throughout the series was the accuracy of their goal-kicking with Owen Farrell proving unfazed when stepping up to the tee. Having kicked the decisive penalty in Wellington the week before, the Lions no.12 started from where he left off with two from two in the first half, before Elliot Daly kicked a monster penalty from out wide just inside his own half to cut New Zealand’s lead to three points at the start of the second-half. Jerome Kaino’s yellow card for a neck-roll on Alun-Wyn Jones the gave the Lions some momentum but despite controlling possession and territory for the ten-minute period, the 14 men of New Zealand survived relatively unscathed although Owen Farrell did level the scores with another penalty. By now the pressure was on both sides with the scores tied going into the final quarter and unsurprisingly given what was at stake, the match became a cagey affair with mistakes creeping in for both sides. When replacement prop Kyle Sinckler went down in the scrum just inside his half, the resulting penalty from Beauden Barrett looked to have clinched the series for the All Blacks. Despite showing great endeavour in attack throughout the match nothing seemed to be coming off for the Lions backs, and with New Zealand leading by three points the best chance they seemed to have was of getting another penalty shot at goal. That chance came just three minutes before the end of the match when Wyatt Crockett was caught offside at a ruck just inside New Zealand’s half. Despite the distance out from the posts, the Lions opted to trust in Owen Farrell as they had done throughout the series to level the scores up, and just as he did in Wellington the Englishman delivered with a nerveless kick that sailed over and tied the scores up at 15-apiece with just two minutes remaining. That was not the end of the drama however as from the restart Lions replacement Ken Owens caught the ball from what looked like an offside position after Liam Williams had spilled the ball under pressure from an onrushing Kieran Read. The penalty was awarded and well inside the Lions half near to the posts a successful shot at goal looked a formality, and with it would secure a narrow series victory for the hosts. Under pressure from Lions players, referee Romain Poite went to the TMO and after a lengthy look, as well as what proved to be a crucial intervention from Lions skipper Sam Warburton, Poite deemed the incident to be an accidental offside and reduced the penalty to a scrum to the chagrin of New Zealand captain Read. The Lions still had work to do with the All Blacks having an attacking scrum near their opponents’ 22 and following a few frantic phases of play that nearly saw Jordie Barrett slide in for a try out wide, the Lions eventually pushed the All Blacks attackers out into touch as the match and series ended in an improbable draw that left both teams wondering what might have been.