Strange scenes as series ends all-square
There is no looking forward to next week. The 2017 Lions tour to New Zealand has ended and all we can do is reflect, and what a series we have to reflect on. The final twist came in the form of an unexpected 15-15 draw, that consequentially tied the series and left both sides flummoxed as to what to make of it.
When the dust settles and the frustration of not having won wears off, the Lions will be able to lounge on a beach, enjoying their summer holiday, safe in the knowledge that they have done their fans and the shirt proud. On the other hand, New Zealand will be entering the Rugby Championship doing a bit of soul-searching as to how they let a scratch team level a series they were expected to walk away with.
Initially, it looked like the hosts were going to make mincemeat of the tourists, carving them open at will. It was only some cracking cover defence and uncharacteristic butchering of opportunities that had given Warren Gatland’s men a sniff at the interval. Beauden Barrett missed some very kickable shots at goal, but they had still managed to get ahead due to a Ngani Laumape try, with the spectacular Jordie Barrett assisting him and then grabbing his own. Owen Farrell and Elliot Daly landed a penalty each – the latter’ was a monster effort – to give the Lions hope at 12-6.
Afterwards, it was a different story. The Lions were disciplined throughout and even starting seeing a lot of the ball in New Zealand’s half. There were few clear cut chances, but with Maro Itoje and the rest of his pack causing the opposition grief, and Jonathan Davies seemingly single-handedly ensuring nothing would get through his defence, Farrell was able to punish any naughtiness from the All Blacks. Suddenly, they were level. Dreams were becoming reality and reality was becoming a dream. Surely, this bunch of misfits couldn’t win? Both sides had players who looked born for this environment and others who couldn’t take the strain. With the clock ticking down, a scrum penalty meant Barrett had a simple shot at goal: converted. converted. Down the other end, mere minutes to go, Lions decide to have a pot at goal and level it; Farrell bangs it over. Then, from the kickoff, Romain Poite blew for a penalty to the All Blacks. Hearts were broken. Until Sam Warburton had a word in his ear and got it downgraded to accidental offside and a scrum only. Lions had been saved and a draw came as a welcome relief.
With anyone watching experiencing the strangest atmosphere, both captains were able to bask in the ‘glory’ together. They led their teams up to collect the trophy together and enable the most uniquely ‘Lions Tour’ photos to be taken. Photos that will be shown for years to come.
Kings edge Bulls in thriller
Southern Kings continued to defy the odds with another big scalp. As it looks likely they will join the Pro12, they put down a statement of intent with another big scalp, beating Bulls 31-30. The inconsistent Los Jaguares heaped more misery on the Waratahs, ransacking Sydney 40-27. In the all-Australian affairs, Reds beat conference leaders Brumbies by 16 points to 15, whilst Western Force saw off Melbourne Rebels 31-22. Sunwolves had a better outing than last week, but were still hammered 52-15 by Stormers.
Hero of the week
Sam Warburton and Kieran Read showed the most sportsmanlike behaviour as they were burning with disappointment. In the tense final stages they could be heard discussing the game, revelling in what it was about. Then, at the end, collecting the trophy together and humorously wresting it off each other was delightful to watch.
Villain of the week
It was clear that everybody wanted to see a winner. I’m not sure the best way to go about deciding one, but either points difference, or extra time may have been an option. It was clear that coaches and players alike would have been ready to go for another round.
Try of the week
The break and chip that led to Seabelo Senatla’s try for the Stormers was a stunner. It also gave them ample breathing space against a previously competitive Sunwolves side.
– Was it a case of All Blacks on the slide? Or did the Lions genuinely become equal to the best team in the world in six weeks?
– Were the tourists right to go for the final shot at goal, or should they have gone all or nothing?
– Which players have seen their stock rise during the tour?
– Conversely, which have dropped off?
– How will Scots be feeling about the Lions concept after not providing a single player to the test team?
– Now that we can draw a line under this season, what are you looking forward to for 17/18?
By Joe Large