Williams’ shoulder gives Lions a chance
The history books won’t care about the circumstance. They won’t care about a red card. They won’t care about indiscipline. They won’t care what the weather was like, or that the reigning player of the year missed some easy kicks at goal. They will only care about one thing: the result. The result in this case was a history-making 24-21 victory for the Lions.
Let’s keep the result in context. Whilst it has certainly made a mockery of most people’s 3-0 All Black predictions and taken the series to a deserved decider, it was 15v14 for most of the game after Sonny Bill Williams’ rightful red card. On the other hand, you can only beat what’s in front of you, and the All Blacks at home (even a man down) is rugby’s ‘Everest’. Next week, they will have to conquer something even more sizeable: a wounded New Zealand with a full complement at their fortress – Eden Park.
The teeming rain couldn’t drown out the atmosphere both sets of fans created around the ‘Cake Tin’ and the physical intensity on show from the off was in keeping with that. There were uncharacteristic errors from New Zealand and the Lions had noticeably upped their game in the opening exchanges. Beauden Barrett was off-radar with some kicks, but managed one to take the lead, before Owen Farrell responded. Then, Williams recklessly shoulder charged Anthony Watson in the head and the game changed. The All Blacks – whilst they kept composure – were obviously more conservative. Frustratingly, the Lions couldn’t assert authority and indiscipline meant it was 9-9 at the interval.
Those penalties threatened to undermine the best chance of victory over the hosts they were ever going to have, particularly when Mako Vunipola saw yellow after visibly losing his head. The World Champions edged further and further ahead, creating an ominous looking nine point gap. Then, the Jonny Sexton-Farrell experiment came to fruition. The defence was stretched one way and the ball fired back the other, leaving Toby Faletau with only Israel Dagg to trample on his way to the line. One opportunity, one score. Barrett restored a converted try advantage, but Connor Murray sniped over for a converted try himself. Two opportunities, two scores, level-pegging and the Lions were believing. Minutes remaining and a score needed, the All Blacks were unfortunately (although correctly) penalised for taking a man out in the air and Farrell slotted the points that would win the game. They made it difficult for themselves in the closing minutes, but as Murray booted the ball out, all of the difficulties were forgotten instantaneously with a famous win.
Very little is needed in terms of personnel change next week, with Vunipola being used as bench impact instead of starting the only one I would make. Bringing in the menace that is Maro Itoje was the correct call to partner Alun Wyn-Jones and his cool head and that combination should be retained. Also, they seemed to find their clinical finishing for the first time this tour. However, they still need to find a way to control possession and territory. Lightening won’t strike twice and we won’t win if we struggle to dominate those facets against fourteen men, let alone fifteen. However, they have given us all hope and filled us with a disproportional level of adrenaline on a Saturday morning. What more can we ask for?
Come 10:30 in Great Britain and Ireland next Saturday morning, we will know what the history books will be recording. Can the Lions make them write it in their favour?
Kings continue to surprise
With the focus on the Lions and the Northern Hemisphere’s domestic season over, you’d be forgiven for forgetting Super Rugby was back after its short break. Southern Kings shocked Los Jaguares to win 31-30 in Argentina, whilst Stormers beat Cheetahs 40-34. Bulls also got a win against Sharks 30-17 and Lions smashed Sunwolves with a huge 94-7 scoreline.
Hero of the week
Stephen Ferris said in the punditry that he thought the Jerome Garces had a poor game. I completely disagree. I feel he got every big decision correct, and, by my reckoning, almost all of the small ones too. It wasn’t a free-flowing game anyway, so he didn’t need to worry about that. He helped make it the game it was: intense, bruising, physical, honest.
Villain of the week
I don’t think there is any disputing that the first red card received by an All Black in fifty years deserves the ‘accolade’ this week. I don’t believe it was intentionally designed to harm Anthony Watson, but Sonny Bill Williams‘ shoulder charge to the head was incredibly clumsy and left the referee with no choice but to wave a red card. Ultimately, it cost his side the game.
Try of the week
Warrick Gelant bagged himself a hat-trick for the Bulls, which could have been worthy of the hero award. Instead, I shall name the first of those – after a hectic period of play – try of the week. To watch it, follow the link.
– What needs to change in the game-plan to come away with the series?
– Should there be any player changes?
– What next for Sonny Bill?
– If Eddie Jones were to describe Itoje as a car now, what would he be?
By Joe Large