Quite simply it did deliver, in spades. A breathless, frenetic, brutal and impossibly tense test match ended in honours even and depending on which side of the fence you sit on, perhaps the right result. A 1-1 tied series of course leaves a hollow feeling for both teams and surely for a series like this you install sudden death or at the very least, extra time
What this series has done for world rugby is given this wonderful game a fresh blast of excitement. The All Blacks are definitely the best team on the planet and may well continue their incredible dominance for many years to come. However, what the Lions have shown is that teams should not be afraid of taking on New Zealand in their own back yard. As so often is the case the All Blacks can intimidate teams both on and off the field. When Manchester United dominated the late 90’s and mid 2000’s, they created the ‘Old Trafford’ mentality where teams were beaten before they took to the pitch. I suspect New Zealand were way before them given the incredible stats of how few games they have lost on home soil.
This is what makes the Lion’s achievements absolutely phenomenal. To be able to put a scratch team together in the space of a few weeks and come within a whisker of winning is truly remarkable. What the Lions have shown is that this team can be beaten if you bring a ferocious intensity and desire to win. It also means having everyone from the kit man through to the captain singing from the same hymn sheet. Right from the beginning of the tour, there seemed to be harmony between the squad and the management. Warren Gatland and his coaching team deserve a huge amount of credit because they kept the squad going even when the defeats came and went. The selection was spot on bringing together gnarled warriors like Alun Wyn-Jones and Peter Mahony and future starlets like Kyle Sinckler and Maro Itoje. Crucially the Lions bubble never burst and they fully deserve the shared accolades.
The final test was not flawless as both teams struggled under the extreme pressure of the occasion. Superheroes like Owen Farrell and Beauden Barrett mixed brilliance with the ordinary and Julian Savea will wince every time his knock on is replayed. This was the ultimate game of chess in many ways with both teams jockeying for position and searching for the one crucial dagger blow to take the spoils. It never came and the last minute drama of was it or wasn’t it an offside was an appropriate drop of sickening tension for both teams. The reality is Roman Poite got it wrong but I wonder if any of the referees would have called it any different given what was at stake. There are no hiding places for referees and there is not a man or woman on this planet who would have swapped places to be Roman Poite at that moment. Poite should be congratulated on a good performance although the whole of New Zealand may disagree for many months to come!
It was fitting to see two outstanding warriors in Kieran Read and Sam Warburton acknowledge each other whilst the ultimate drama around the TMO was being played out. Sometimes in sport all you can do is smile and pray.
The All Blacks were perhaps slightly off their usual exceptional standards but talk of a disastrous final result is way off the mark. The state of the New Zealand game is in excellent health and they will continue to get better. The production line of talent coming through is as strong as ever led by the likes of Jordie Barrett who had a great game and talents such as Rieko Ioane and Ngani Laumape coming through. What did for the All Blacks were the one per centers which they are normally so good at. The big if’s starting with Beauden Barrett’s goal kicking, dropped passes like Julian Savea’s, all contributed to not quite getting the job done. New Zealand came up against an excellent drift defence tactic and with the weather conditions blighting the first two tests, the All Blacks famed attack could not get going. Interestingly, if one looks through the stats, the All Blacks came out on top on most categories apart from line breaks and goal kicking. A drawn series feels like the fair result.
Massive credit to both teams and what a series it has been. Thankfully, the British Lions legacy will live on.
End of tour awards
Lions Man of the Series: Jonathan Davies: Outstanding in defence and attack. Would walk into the All Black side, he was that good.
All Blacks Man of the Series: Kieran Read: The inspirational captain was immense in everything he did.
Lions Man of Tour: Peter Mahony: Typified the Lions approach on this tour, never took a backward step and unlucky to be dropped. Did not bitch or moan about being dropped either.
Villain of the Series: Sonny Bill Williams: A truly remarkable athlete but his career will have a black mark with his crucial sending off in the second test.
Rising Superstars: Maro Itoje, Kyle Sinckler and Anthony Watson for the Lions. Rieko Ioane, Ngani Laumape and Jordie Barrett for New Zealand.
‘Balls as big as a house’ moment: Owen Farrell’s nerveless penalty to bring the Lions back to 15-15 in the deciding test.