Owen Farrell kicked a penalty in the 77th minute to force a 15-15 draw against the All Blacks in Auckland as well as a 1-1 series result. JON CARDINELLI reports.
Sad to say it, but a fantastic Test match and series decider may well be remembered for a refereeing blunder. The British & Irish Lions had done well to draw level after 77 minutes when Farrell held his nerve from 48m out. At the ensuing kickoff, however, Liam Williams knocked the ball on and Ken Owens caught it in an offside position.
Romain Poite’s immediate reaction was to award the All Blacks a penalty. But after consulting with the other officials and viewing the incident on the big screen, the referee determined that Owens was accidentally offside and that the All Blacks deserved a scrum rather than a penalty.
It’s an incident that will be discussed and debated in the lead-up to the next Lions’ tour to New Zealand in 12 years’ time. From a neutral viewpoint, Owens looked to be offside. One would have expected Beauden Barrett to kick the penalty from there and thus steer the All Blacks to a deserved series victory.
Unfortunately for the All Blacks, the penalty was not given. The Lions managed to survive the final moments without conceding further points. They managed to come away with a draw as well as a series draw: a massive result for the northern hemisphere and world rugby given the All Blacks’ dominance in recent years.
Earlier this week, All Blacks blindside Jerome Kaino said that the third and decisive Test of the series would be like a World Cup final. Kaino was right in the sense that both sets of players hammered into the collisions and breakdowns as if there were no tomorrow.
Both sets of players made mistakes with ball in hand and both sets of players succumbed to the pressure at key moments of the contest. Indeed, the All Blacks may have won this game by a comfortable margin had they been more clinical with ball in hand and if Beauden Barrett hadn’t missed two goal kicks in the first half.
Barrett missed three kicks at goal in the second Test, which the All Blacks lost. He left five points on the park in the series-decider.
Where the All Blacks did trouble the Lions at Eden Park was in the air. Aaron Smith and Barrett’s kicking from hand was outstanding. The accuracy of the halfbacks was complemented by a determined kick chase, which forced the Lions’ receivers to make mistakes and concede possession.
The Lions defence blew hot and cold and Barrett prospered as a result. The All Blacks flyhalf appeared to have all the time in the world when he took the ball inside the Lions 22 and kick-passed to his brother Jordie out on the right wing.
The 20-year-old debutant beat the Lions defender in the air and palm the ball back infield before falling into touch. The bounce was kind for Ngani Laumape, who crossed for an important try.
The Lions did well to rush up when the All Blacks took the ball flat and force the hosts to make handling mistakes. New Zealand persisted, and reaped the ultimate reward when Laumape got a miracle offload away to Anton Lienert-Brown. The Lions defence was compressed, and so the outside centre was able to put Jordie Barrett away into space for a simple try.
Beauden Barrett missed the conversion, however, and so the All Blacks went to the break with an unconvincing 12-6 lead. By the 60th minute, the Lions had levelled the scores via the boots of Elliot Daly and Farrell.
The Lions never appeared to be in control, though. Indeed, they did not captialise to a more telling degree when Kaino was serving time in the sin bin for his reckless challenge on Alun Wyn Jones. By contrast, the All Blacks appeared to grow in confidence as the decider raced towards a climax.
Replacement prop Kyle Sinckler was penalised for collapsing a scrum under his own posts in the 68th minute, and this time Barrett bisected the posts. Wyatt Crockett then made an unforgivable blunder when he infringed at a ruck and allowed Farrell a shot on goal.
The series has been shared. The result will please the Lions, who weren’t given much of a chance in the lead-up to the three Tests. Poite’s decision cost the All Blacks dearly in the decider, and yet New Zealand will know that they also let themselves down at key moments of the contest.
All Blacks – Tries: Ngani Laumape, Jordie Barrett. Conversion: Beauden Barrett. Penalty: Beauden Barrett.
British & Irish Lions – Penalties: Owen Farrell (4), Elliot Daly.
All Blacks – 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Israel Dagg, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody.
Subs: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Aaron Cruden, 23 Malakai Fekitoa.
British & Irish Lions – 15 Liam Williams, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Elliot Daly, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Sean O’Brien, 6 Sam Warburton (c), 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Jamie George, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Subs: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 Courtney Lawes, 20 CJ Stander, 21 Rhys Webb, 22 Ben Te’o, 23 Jack Nowel
Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images