Brave Lions battle to earn draw as series ends all square following nail-biting finale against All Blacks
All Blacks 15 Lions 15
After six weeks, 10 matches and an epic, absorbing Test series the Lions tour concluded in anti-climax with a draw that sees the two teams share the spoils.
The tourists leave New Zealand not knowing what to make of it all, but sure that they have earned the respect of the world champions.
Both teams had chances to win it and there was a moment of relief when referee Romain Poite down-graded a penalty to a scrum with two minutes remaining, but ultimately the two teams couldn’t be separated.
It was the first drawn series since 1955 when they lasted four games and it finished 2-2 with South Africa thanks to Owen Farrell holding his nerve with a long-range penalty.
This morning’s game was a tense, taut encounter filled with huge collisions and big moments.
Ultimately, the Lions’ defence kept them in it as the All Blacks made a huge number of uncharacteristic errors; but the visiting side couldn’t get their attack going and were inaccurate at critical junctures.
Widely written off before the tour and 4/1 outsiders to win this game, parity is an impressive result but it’s not what they came for.
With another huge contingent of Lions fans getting in early, Eden Park crackled from the off and Beauden Barrett’s kicking woes followed him from Wellington and he missed a chance to get the home side off the mark from almost in front of the posts after Sam Warburton was harshly penalised for going off his feet.
On a rare dry night in Auckland, the world champions took their opportunity to play and they showed intent early as Aaron Smith quickly tapped a free kick and they found space wide but Jordie Barrett’s pass to Julian Savea didn’t stick.
The Lions were being forced into a lot of tackles and Owen Farrell was enduring a poor start, making a litany of early mistakes.
And ultimately they caught up on him as a brilliant attacking position was lost by a loose skip pass that invited Beauden Barrett to intercept and he raced free. He was hunted down by Liam Williams but released Ngani Laumape who was caught by Jon Davies.
Anthony Watson picked off his attempted offload and Conor Murray cleared, but from the lineout the home side kept coming and Beauden Barrett kicked for his brother who batted the ball down to Laumape to score his first try for New Zealand.
The out-half converted from the touch-line and Farrell pulled a penalty back but the men in black kept coming, from another cross-kick Julian Savea caught Farrell napping and steam-rolled Liam Williams. Farrell recovered and Sam Cane knocked on to allow the Lions breathe.
They couldn’t for long as the scrum went against the head but Aaron Smith’s pass to Beauden Barrett was too strong and he spurned a gilt-edged opportunity.
A big hit from Jon Davies on threatened to change the momentum as the Lions went up and pulled another penalty back as Anton Lienert-Brown came around the side.
Their tails were up, Johnny Sexton made a half-break and off-loaded to Farrell but his pass went to deck; Sam Whitelock brilliantly forced a penalty at the subsequent breakdown and this time the defence couldn’t contain the brilliant home attack.
From the lineout, Laumape sucked in both centres and off-loaded to Lienert-Brown, he fed Jordie Barrett who celebrated his first start with a walk-in try.
His brother couldn’t convert and they went in 11-6 up at the break, but Elliot Daly knocked over a penalty from inside his own half almost straight from the kick-off to make it a two-point game.
Sexton, who had injured his ankle before half-time, strayed off-side and Barrett found the corner.
The All Blacks again went for the jugular, but Jordie Barrett’s pass to Savea was miles forward. It was another let-off for the Lions.
They got their moment when Jerome Kaino went high and hard and connected with Alun-Wyn Jones head, earning himself a yellow card.
The Lions kicked to touch, but Jamie George’s throw was crooked. He got another chance when Beuden Barrett mis-judged a Conor Murray box-kick; the Lions attacked but Watson’s off-load to Williams was forward.
A brilliant Jon Davies tackle forced Jordie Barrett to kick out on the full, but a third attack came up short when the centre couldn’t take Sexton’s pass and when the All Blacks cleared Daly spilled the ball into touch.
CJ Stander – on for O’Brien at half-time – forced a turnover and the Lions attacked, Brodie Retallick went high on Courtney Lawes and Farrell levelled matters at 12-all with 20 minutes remaining.
The Lions kept attacking, shovelling the ball wide where Daly made gains but Courtney Lawes spilled the ball in contact to allow the home side breathe.
Back they came and although a knock-on spoiled their attack, Kyle Sinckler brought the scrum down and even Barrett couldn’t miss from dead in front.
The tension in the stadium was palpable as a Liam Williams knock-on handed the home side good field position but a combination of Rhys Webb and Farrell forced the turnover with a choke tackle on Israel Dagg and Wyatt Crockett conceded a scrum penalty to allow the Lions edge into New Zealand territory.
From the lineout, Crockett got caught on the wrong side and Webb milked a penalty.
Farrell nailed the penalty and it was all square with two minutes on the clock.
But from the kick-off, Kieran Read pressurised Williams into spilling the restart and Ken Owens played the ball from an offside position. Romain Poite reviewed it and having initially given a penalty, he changed his call to a scrum.
The Lions got the shove on, Rhys Webb pounced but his pass didn’t go to hand and the All Blacks had a scrum.
They couldn’t force a penalty, so instead they attacked and they looked threatening until Jordie Barrett was eventually forced into touch to confirm the dead rubber.
NEW ZEALAND -J Barrett; I Dagg, A Lienert-Brown, N Laumape (M Fekitoa 67 HIA), J Savea (A Cruden 73); B Barrett, A Smith (TJ Perenara 74); J Moody (W Crockett 58), C Taylor (N Harris 73), O Franks (C Faumuina 58); B Retallick, S Whitelock (; J Kaino, S Cane (A Savea 60), K Read (capt).
LIONS – L Williams; A Watson (J Nowell 73), J Davies, O Farrell, E Daly; J Sexton (B Te’o HIA 48-54, 73), C Murray (R Webb 69); M Vunipola (J McGrath 60), J George (K Owens 70), T Furlong (K Sinckler 60); M Itoje, AW Jones (C Lawes 50); S Warburton (capt) (AW Jones 67-73), S O’Brien (CJ Stander h-t), T Faletau.
Referee: R Poite (France)