The British & Irish Lions handed the All Blacks a first defeat in New Zealand in eight years when they won 24-21 in Wellington on Saturday. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The Lions have done enough to keep the three-Test series alive. In a broader context, they have become the first visiting side to win a Test in New Zealand since 2009. They have also managed to end the All Blacks' 47-game winning streak at home.
The Lions could not have asked for more favourable conditions. The driving wind and rain suited their pragmatic approach, and their high-ball tactics troubled the All Blacks during the early stages of the contest.
The visitors received a further boost when Sonny Bill Williams was sent off after his shoulder charge made contact with Anthony Watson's head. At that point, the score was 3-3 with 55 minutes remaining in the game.
That incident marked the All Blacks' first red card in a Test match since 1967. It forced a reshuffle as Steve Hansen pulled flanker Jerome Kaino and sent an extra back, namely debutant Ngani Laumape, on to the park.
Suddenly the Lions had a golden opportunity to win this game and level the three-game series.
The All Blacks worked hard in the moments before half-time to unsettle the Lions pack and win the territorial battle. The scoreboard read 9-9 at the break, but the hosts had made a statement and appeared to have the momentum despite their numerical disadvantage.
The Lions conceded a spate of penalties in the third quarter. Beauden Barrett enjoyed 10 shots at goal over the course of the game, and again the Lions were fortunate that the All Blacks flyhalf only converted seven of those opportunities into points.
Referee Jérôme Garcès lost his patience with the Lions in the 56th minute after Mako Vunipola effected a late clean-out on Barrett. A yellow card was brandished, and Barrett steered the All Blacks into an 18-9 lead.
Just when it seemed as if the hosts had regained control of the contest, the Lions hit back. The All Blacks defence began to tire, and a wide strike resulted in a try for Lions No 8 Taulupe Faletau.
A powerful surge right up the middle in the 68th minute yielded a second try for the tourists. Conor Murray crossed the line and Owen Farrell's conversion levelled the scores at 21-21.
The momentum was firmly with the Lions as the game raced towards a climax. Replacement prop Charlie Faumuina was penalised for taking out a player in the air, and Farrell made no mistake from right out in front. With three minutes remaining, the Lions were in sight of a famous victory.
The visitors maintained their composure in the final moments, and when the hooter sounded, Murray booted the ball into the crowd. The result of the series will now hinge on the outcome of the third Test next week.
All Blacks – Penalties: Beauden Barrett (7).
British & Irish Lions – Tries: Taulupe Faletau, Conor Murray. Conversion: Owen Farrell. Penalties: Farrell (4).
All Blacks – 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Sam 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 Ngani Laumape.
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 Nowell.
Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images