Monday 22 July 2019

Alan Quinlan: The Irish Lions did us proud but you have to feel for Peter O'Mahony

Peter O’Mahony leads the Lions out for yesterday’s first Test against New Zealand in Auckland. Photo: Sportsfile
Peter O’Mahony leads the Lions out for yesterday’s first Test against New Zealand in Auckland. Photo: Sportsfile
Referee Romain Poite raises his arm to signal a penalty to the All Blacks with two minutes to go. Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images
Alan Quinlan

Alan Quinlan

Playing in New Zealand is an incredibly pressurised environment and that can often get to referees as well as players. You need some decisions to go your way but you have to earn your luck and the Lions certainly did that over the last couple of weeks.

It was a remarkable tour from start to finish and although a draw was a strange way to end it, it was probably a fair outcome.

Both teams will have regrets but the All Blacks will feel that they let the series slip.

Steve Hansen kept his counsel when asked about Romain Poite's controversial call to change his decision from a penalty to a scrum, but behind the scenes he will be fuming.

After initially making the correct call, Poite changed his mind because he had time to think about his decision. For me, the magnitude of the occasion got to him. He backed out of it, no two ways about it.

It's certainly not black and white, but the Lions were very lucky to get away with it. Poite made the decision to give the penalty, which was the correct one but the Lions players put him under pressure to look at Kieran Read's challenge in the air.

Owen Farrell celebrates converting the series-tying penalty. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Owen Farrell celebrates converting the series-tying penalty. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Sam Warburton asked Poite to check for accidental offside - it was an excellent piece of captaining.

I had the 'ref link' and it was amazing to listen to the difference in the rival captains' approach over the game. Read was constantly in Poite's face questioning decisions and asking him to double-check stuff. Warburton didn't do that at all but it was arguably more effective because the crucial decision went in his side's favour at the death.

There was a strange atmosphere inside the stadium after full-time. Players and fans alike were really deflated. There was no doubt that a draw was a disappointing end to what has been a brilliant tour.

Everyone wanted to see extra-time and I was certainly in agreement. There should have been some sort of plan in place to have an outright winner. It's something that will have to be looked at for future tours.

I couldn't get over the intensity that both sides played with. The hits that were going in were phenomenal; being at the game really gave a greater appreciation of how physical it was.

The All Blacks looked very nervy but that all came about from the pressure that the Lions put them under. It is incredible to think that the Lions only led for three minutes in the entire series.

The biggest positive for the Lions was their defence. Andy Farrell has to take huge credit for how they performed in the second and third Tests. The line-speed was very impressive and they ended up making New Zealand look human.

In the first Test, I think they were caught off guard by the intensity that the All Blacks brought, but since that defeat, they have been excellent.

The ambition that the Lions played with has to be applauded. At times their execution let them down but their approach was very positive.

There is no doubt that they rode their luck. Beauden Barrett's kicking wasn't up to scratch and it cost his side. If he converts the second try, it's 14-6 and it's a two-score game.

It felt like a huge moment at the time, and so it proved, as the momentum shifted back in the Lions' favour.

The All Blacks passed up two or three gilt-edged try scoring chances which is so unlike them. They always pride themselves on their skills but they have a bit of work to do before the Rugby Championship.

With a bit more control, the Lions could have won the series and for all the credit that they deserve for drawing it, like the All Blacks, they will have regrets.

Particularly in the period when Jerome Kaino was in the sin bin. I was very surprised that they didn't try to drive the three lineouts that they got. You could feel the atmosphere changing inside the stadium, and that was the time to really take them on up front.

They only managed to score three points when Kaino was off the pitch and that was a let-off. The Lions should have kept seven forwards in the lineout and tried to maul them with an extra man. Kaino is so powerful and causes such destruction in the maul. The Lions should have capitalised on his absence.

Northern Hemisphere rugby needed a result like this because there is no doubt that the there was a lot of doom and gloom in this part of the world after the World Cup, with all four Rugby Championship teams in the semi-finals. But after Ireland's win in Chicago and now the Lions, it will give plenty of other teams hope that the All Blacks are not the invincible force many believe they are.

From an Irish point of view, it was a really positive tour. Sean O'Brien was immense. He had already re-announced himself on the world stage before going off injured.

Any time Ireland play New Zealand, O'Brien is always the first player that they mention. There is a reason why they fear him.

At this stage, we shouldn't be surprised at Johnny Sexton's mental strength but the manner in which he bounced back from not starting the first Test was hugely impressive. Once again, he answered his critics. He is an outstanding player.

For all of the good memories, you've got to feel for Peter O'Mahony because he didn't do much wrong to be dropped but no-one can ever take away the fact that he captained the Lions in a Test. An incredible achievement that shouldn't be glossed over.

The Lions concept was questioned but the last few weeks have proved that it is alive and well. It was a brilliant tour, it's just a shame that we couldn't have a winner.

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