A committed performance in the final quarter, complemented by the positive impact of the bench, enabled the Lions to clinch a historic 24-21 win over the All Blacks, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
When Sonny Bill Williams was correctly red-carded in the 25th minute of this match for a reckless and dangerous shoulder charge, the Lions were gifted the best possible chance to draw the series level at 1-1.
In the end, they got the job done, but it was far from convincing. Despite the numbers advantage, the Lions’ ill-discipline and lack of composure looked as if it could cost them as the All Blacks opened up an 18-9 lead before the hour mark.
However, as the All Blacks began to tire and holes opened up on defence, so Taulupe Faletau and Conor Murray went over to score, while a late Owen Farrell penalty sealed just a second win for the Lions over New Zealand in the last 14 attempts.
Ultimately, it was the impact of the Lions’ bench players that helped enable the visitors to lift the tempo during an impressive final quarter, while immense determination on defence was enough to ensure the tourists levelled the series.
For the All Blacks, it was a first defeat on home soil in 48 Tests since 2009, but they will know that Williams’ red card was the real game changer in difficult wet-weather conditions that had already served as somewhat of a leveller.
It was an act of foul play that handed Williams an unprecedented place in the history books as he became the first-ever player to be sent off in a Lions Test match, while also becoming the first All Black to be red-carded in 50 years.
It also prompted a somewhat surprise move from All Blacks coach Steve Hansen, who opted to yank off forward Jerome Kaino and bring on centre Ngani Laumape, despite the fact that the forward battle was always expected to be the defining area of the game in the driving rain.
The decision to reduce the forward pack to seven men initially reversed the early ascendancy the All Blacks had begun to establish at scrum time, but the visitors did appear to lack composure in the immediate aftermath of Williams’ sending off.
As the errors flowed, so Beauden Barrett continued to edge the All Blacks ahead with a couple of penalties, but Farrell did draw the scores level at 9-9 before the break, which aptly reflected the parity that had been provided through the red card and inclement weather.
However, the Lions continued to be their own worst enemy as they conceded a sequence of seven penalties in the third quarter, with Barrett missing two, but slotting three to hand the hosts a nine-point buffer.
To make matters worse for the visitors, Lions prop Mako Vunipola was shown a yellow card in the 56th minute, and as commentator Justin Marshall quite correctly summed up at the time, ‘The Lions’ discipline has been disgraceful.’
Yet, when it mattered most, the Lions rediscovered their composure and finished as the stronger team, with the visitors outscoring the All Blacks 15-3 in the decisive final quarter.
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