Best Of The Weekend: Epic Series Ends In Draw

Maro Itoje


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.

Discussion points

– 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

19 thoughts on “Best Of The Weekend: Epic Series Ends In Draw

  1. One of the stock risers to me was actually Dan Biggar. I was pleasantly surprised by how well he performed/grew into the tour, particularly with the weakest passer of the 9s usually being the one inside him. If he can continue that form into the next 6N, Welsh fans can be very happy.
    I thought the centres overall had a poor tour (including Farrell, suprisingly), though I suspect Howley is at least partly behind this. JD was my player of the tour though.

  2. Thought all three tight heads had a good tour. Furlong and Sinkler clearly learned a lot while Cole was back to his ultra solid best for the mid week team. Itoje went from very promising to world class, Lawes is back to his best giving EJ some serious problems choosing a second row. O’Brien was outstanding, Watson looked sharp and good under the high ball. Biggar much better than I expected, Henderson did everything he could to break into the Saturday squad. Big disappointments : Jj, George North and Henshaw. JD clearly player of the tour. George surely has to get in above Hartley in the autumn. The Scots will be pissed off I expect, but man for man can have few complaints about selection of the party or the match squad. Watson and Visser must have been close but if you can’t beat Fiji with a full squad how many of them deserved to be on the plane? Looking forward to a terrific six nations with all England, Wales and Ireland competing with renewed confidence.

  3. – How will Scots be feeling about the Lions concept after not providing a single player to the test team?

    One would hope that they would feel that they have to develop better individual players. Arguably, if it wasn’t for injuries, both Nel and Hogg would have started in all 3 tests.

    Apart from them, who else would seriously feel aggrieved not to have been chosen?

    Watson? Rather O’Brien and Warburton for me. Toss up with Tipuric too.

    Gray bros? Which locks would you leave out?

    Russell? I would have taken him as 3rd choice 10, BUT Biggar had a cracking tour, and Farrell & Sexton, despite not being perfect, certainly proved their class in the tests.

    Realistically who else is there? Visser for North maybe?

  4. – Now that we can draw a line under this season, what are you looking forward to for 17/18?

    A; Bristol being promoted by Xmas.

    B; seeing how England’s team evolves (Lions might well be somewhat jaded at the start of the season, and I can see some new faces for the Autumn tests).

    1. Think EJ has already stated that he’ll be giving the Lions players a rest for the Autumn games

  5. Hollow outcome. Gave the AB’s 20 pt win, which I still think was fair enough given the 1st test’s result & the fact that the lions could only win by 3 v 14 in the 2nd. However, I DIDN’T reckon on NZ giving up the 20 in butchered chances! How could Savea drop a sitter with a clear run in? How could Laumape not have either put a grubber infield or looped a pass inside to his team mate? Then Barrett & Cane etc spilled it more times than AlexD’s Walter Mitty rants
    & fantasies. Barrett again missed 1 too many. Why didn’t Read just hand it to Jordie B? Then there was the ref’s reneging on that pen @ the death. Shades of Jobert? AB’s on the slide? Well they forced the Lions to ‘play the AB’s way didn’t they’? They won the 1st comfortably, lost the 2nd by a whole 3 when down a man & despite having won most of the stats, mainly threw it away in the 3rd. The lions, with a 50% success rate & an avowed intention to ‘win the series’ in which they ultimately failed, might be the 1’s teetering nearer the slide perhaps? What say you Joe?

    1. And then Donny Don Don realised his team was fallible and maybe himself too as he had hitherto thought of himself as a potential All Black.
      Never mind….!

    2. I say that the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

      The All Blacks are clearly still the best side in the world, however the series showed that they have some mental fragilities reappearing, which haven’t been there for over 6/7 years, particularly when they come up against a stubborn defence and a team which believes it can win.

      If I’m brutally honest, All Blacks deserved to win on balance, but deserving to win and winning are two very different things.

      As for the Lions, I thought they upset the apple art a little bit, and showed a template for how to challenge New Zealand. They were full of passion and belief, with some standout defence to boot. If teams who have more time to train together can bring those elements to the table, I don’t think the All Blacks will be the only team contending to win the next World Cup.

      1. Joe L
        I’ve heard similar stuff about AB fragilities, or choking, for how many yrs now? This seems to me to be, esp the Brit media’s, disingenuous way of trying to sell their column inches or air time by putting the boot in. Until the ABs won b2b WC’s that is.. for a while. Look @ last week’s S. Times’ S. Jones take on things. The lions are now on a par with NZ & Itoje is the best lock to walk God’s earth. And all this when NZ are the most successful team in any sport in the world – ever! And going back to Itoje, his team didn’t dominate up front as aforementioned elsewhere, so how is he suddenly a world beater. Admit he’s not an egg beater either, but after 2 test games, when NZ were down a fwd in the 2nd test? For me there’s always been too much talking up of yr own after too little evidence (1 swallow & all that) & too much talking down of NZ. Sure the AB’s fall off the stage now & again (Chicago keeps cropping up doesn’t it?), but they analyse things & usually fix them, as in Dublin. Didn’t look too fragile then as far as I recall. Also on yr point about AB fragility, haven’t England shown fragility b4, e.g. in the last WC (I’m assuming you are English & anyway, England players dominated the BIL’s)? You infer that NZ have an underlying mental weakness & that it came to the surface v the Lions & or will again when they’re put under pressure. That they butchered oodles of pts last up doesn’t prove much, as yr opinion seems based on only 2 tests! It also doesn’t bear scrutiny when pitted v their history in Union. And that’s not to state that the Lions didn’t play well. They held up by & large in scrum, line out, esp in the loose & their ‘D’ was mostly effective. Their attack, which was more open than is normal in the NH, was adequate, but they struggled to score TRIES ($). So NZ scored 1 more in the series, but the 2nd test I’ve mentioned & it’s not usual for them to butcher so many; like Savea did! But as Hansen said, ‘That’s footy sometimes. NZ will be challenged in Japan, but they will know this. They’ll therefore plan accordingly. They are usually more innovative & think better about how to beat opposition, so we’ll see, but it seems a mite premature to talk fragilites methinks based on 3 matches innit?

        1. Don,

          Did you forget to summarise your collection of words and abreviations, or is that still to follow?

          By the way; you do understand that Stephen Jones deliberately “stirs the pot” with all of his musings? Particularly when it comes to New Zealand because it illicits such fun responses.

        2. I’m not so sure I was as brutal against the All Blacks as your response makes out……

          They are clearly still the best team in the world and no other team is close. The habit of choking also went away post-2011 and hasn’t even been seen since. This is the first time they have had a once in a career opportunity to play the Lions though, and despite being the better team, they didn’t win. It is a different side to the one that won 2011 and 2015, and they will learn from it, but there was something unusual about them butchering opportunities and a sign of frailties that Nonu, Carter, McCaw, Smith etc had overcome. The question is whether other nations can use the template of pressurising them to eke out results. My guess is that a couple of teams are currently under the guidance of coaches with enough nous to challenge, but NZ are equally well coached and probably have enough up their sleeves to hold the rest at arms length. We will see.

          1. Joe Large
            Response a bit late I know, but time sometimes dictates. Didn’t see yr article as ‘brutal’, just not new by yr reading too much into so called AB ‘fragilities’. Surely a bit of an ancient chestnut by now. As soon as NZ don’t win, this ‘fragility’ thing suddenly reappears. Surely logic dictates that NZ are no more or less fragile now than they have been for decades. They just can’t win all the time, that’s all. It was the same with the ‘choker’ thing between 1987 & 2011 because they didn’t win a WC during this time. However, they’d won only 1 less WC than 2 other previous winners, England apart that is, but few labelled the latter with this moniker. I ? the logic & objectivity of yr & other journos’ views on so little evidence. Another for instance? All seemed to want to ‘talk’ Chicago, but few about Dublin did they? I don’t have to sell column inches I guess, but I do hope for more impartiality or @ least neutrality, but perhaps I’m being naive. I do agree with yr statement, however, which was, ‘We shall see’.

      2. Absolutely! It is a template that has worked not only with the Lions. Chicago was a similar type of game. Both teams featured an unflinching ‘in your face’ style of forward play with a rush defense that caused the ABs no end of problems. Austalia suffered from it against England and struggled!
        Whether this template goes on being successful is another matter! Henson will surely try and fix the problem now having fallen victim to it and been ambushed. You would have thought he’d have been more prepared for it wouldn’t you.
        Arrogance? Over reliance upon structure and systems?
        I would say he probably just plain under-estimated the Lions after 2005.

    1. AlexD
      Have you made that therapy appointment yet? If not, suggest that you do so pronto. Also, a few parting ?’s for you. Are you the ‘grass’ on this site? Do you think I’ve been unaware of this since, earlier this yr, you asked why I was absent for a spell? Did you run to teacher telling tales out of school? That being the case, our communications are likely are over don’t you think? Impressive stuff fella. BTW, you’re not Brighty in disguise are you? Bye.

      1. Please re-compose this garbled message. It makes no sense whatsoever. No joke but genuinely miffed. I know this is Britain and we speak the queen’s english and all that but c’mon. Its nonsense!
        ALSO stop using text speak and silly signs from the grammar index and write normally.
        Your last offer was…i repeat…incomprehensible. Seriously!

        1. BTW up for all future comms as the offer of that cold one was never taken up. It still stands! I think you obfuscated (that means in your language “you bottled it”)

    2. Lions Fan
      Interesting. Time ltd, so will likely revisit site. Wonder how stuff posted here, mine included, would be regarded? Analysis, news or, in varying degrees, tosh? Ha, ha.


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