Wow that was some finale! The final test between the New Zealand All Blacks and the British and Irish Lions ended in a draw meaning that the three match series was shared. That is a brilliant achievement for a squad drawn from four nations that has been brought together in a restricted amount of time. The All Blacks are the current world champions and, by some margin, the most successful team on the planet.
How did the Lions do it? They must be wondering themselves. The usually clinical All Blacks proved strangely fallible in a one-sided first half. True they scored two tries but they could have, nay should have, added at least two more to effectively put the match to bed before half time. That the Lions finished the half only six points down was testament to their dogged determination and ability to take any points on offer by way of penalties. In truth, the Lions rarely threatened to score a try with their best chance leading to an interception which could easily have resulted in a try the other end.
The second half was a real dogfight with defences generally on top. The All Blacks looked the more likely to score a try but the Lions continued to force the home side to give away penalties which they duly converted. Three penalties from the Lions and one for the All Blacks made the score 15-15 as the match entered its final knockings. All our hearts where in our mouths when Owens appeared to field the ball in an offside position in an eminently kickable position following a kick-off with minutes remaining. Following a review, the initial penalty was downgraded to a scrum and the Lions escaped and managed to hold on for the draw. Mind you, with the erratic nature of the All Blacks’ goalkicking it was by no means a certainty that it would have been converted. This is the real reason why the All Blacks failed to win the second and third tests – vital kicks were missed. Farrell has been rock solid for the Lions as Halfpenny was in the last series in Australia.
The draw led to a strange atmosphere at the end of the match where the teams weren’t sure whether to celebrate or commiserate. As the enormity of their achievement sunk in, the Lions no doubt celebrated with some justification. They have certainly rattled the All Blacks and at times made them look far from invincible.
The Lions’ test side ended up pretty close to the one that most people predicted when the tour party was announced. The one big miss was the pace and power of a completely fit George North which would have added a bit of punch to what was quite a light weight set of backs. The combination of Sexton and Farrell worked up to a point and was at its most effective when the All Blacks were a flanker short in the second test. Jonathan Davies had a great series and looked accomplished in all that he did. The back three were a bit erratic with flashes of brilliance accompanied by moments of frailty in defence. Murray was solid at scrum half and took his try well in the second test.
The scrum creaked more than a little with the best scrummaging props being left on the side-lines in favour of the better ball handlers. The lineout worked well apart from a few throws going wrong here and there. In the loose the back row tackled and scrapped manfully and were backed up admirably by the front five. Itoje enhanced his already glowing reputation and provided he stays fit will surely lead the Lions on their next tour to South Africa. Would Billy Vunipola have made a difference? We will never know but the efforts of Faletau were remarkable at times. Warburton proved a level headed captain who led by example and worked well with the combative O’Brien. Congratulations to Alun Wyn Jones on playing in nine successive tests for the Lions – a fantastic achievement. It is up there with Pooler’s Graham Price.
Then of course there was that fantastic Lions’ try in the first test, Yes the Lions as an entity is far from being consigned to the mists of time – particularly when twenty thousand plus fans are prepared to spend large swathes of their life savings to cross the world to support it.
Well done to Warren Gatland and the class of 2017 – you did us proud.
It is only a couple of months before the rugby season and we once more take our places on the Bank at Pontypool Park. It will be tough for the Pooler to match (or even beat) last year’s fantastic achievements but as always I will enter the season with an air of optimism. No matter who plays in the red, white and black they have my support.
Come on Pooler!