New Zealand 15 – 15 Lions
A tempestuous tour came to a thrilling climax as the Lions looked to steal the series in front of the sell-out crowd in Eden Park. The game started well for the Lions who strung a few phases together with good intensity to push the All Blacks back to their five metre line. A precious try would have been in the offing had Farrell’s miss pass not been intercepted by Jordie Barrett. Thankfully, Williams’ industriousness to get back, and Davies’ pace quickly stamped out a breakaway try. But with lungs gasping for air and the Lions scrambling to form a cohesive defence, Barrett’s crossfield kick found his brother who knocked the ball down for a simple try for Laumape. Another try followed for Jordie Barrett following a trademark backline move shortly before the halfway mark. Barrett failed to convert either try, and two penalties from Farrell saw the sides enter Half Time at 12-6. Soon after the break, Daly’s thumping effort made Lions’ history with the longest kick, and the gap shrunk. At 50′ the All Blacks lost the veteran Kaino to the bin following a swinging arm that knocked out Alun Wyn-Jones. Down to 14 men, the Lions had to press their advantage but only managed to make 3 points before Kaino returned. Entering the final 10 minutes, the scores stood at 15-12 and both sides threatening to take the game. Encouraged by Webb’s savvy scrumhalf protestations, Poite penalised Crockett for not rolling away and Farrell cooly slotted the penalty to tie the game and the series.
Liam Williams – 8
He’s had some journey through this tour. From being yellow carded in the first game to the wonder try of the first test, he’s laid down a marker as one of the most exciting fullbacks in the game. Was brilliant in defence with a last ditch tackle to save the series, and looked dangerous in attack (72 metres, 11 runs), he can be very happy with that performance. He needs to work on his aerial game, but at 26 he can only get better. Lucky Sarries.
Anthony Watson – 8
Quicksilver feet and issued with the mammoth task of keeping Savea quiet. He struggled initially with that defensive duty but soon got to grips and won the battle. His steps mesmerised the All Black defence at times with 5 defenders beaten.
Jonathan Davies – 8
Contender for player of the tournament. Excellent in defence and used his left boot to good effect in attack. Would liked to have seen him straighten up and try to get on the outside of Liernert-Brown.
Owen Farrell – 8.5
In spite of a costly miss tackle ratio (5 missed of 13), Farrell deserves an 8.5 for working attack after relentless attack and slotting all penalties. An imperious display.
Elliot Daly – 8
Seemed caught in two minds when defending Barrett’s crossfield kick and could have dealt with it better. Made decent meterage off fewer runs than the rest of the backline and kept solid in defence for the most part. Did incredibly well to thump over from inside his own half.
Jonathan Sexton – 8
The loop-behind continued and worked well with Sexton using himself more as a carrier than in previous encounters. Used his boot sparingly, but dictated the game well with Murray. Lost his intensity after an injury in a clash with Cane.
Conor Murray- 8
For the most part, kept the tempo in the Lions’ favour, and his box kicking was exemplary. Another strong performance.
Mako Vunipola – 7.5
Looking to atone from last week, Vunipola carried well and looked to cause a nuisance at the breakdown. A solid performance but nothing special.
Jamie George – 7.5
For the most part carried well and put in a defensive shift. Could not afford to give away two crooked line outs late on.
Tadhg Furlong – 8
An excellent performance from the tighthead. A bull in a china shop on the charge and a good showing in the knife-edged scrum contest.
Alun Wyn Jones – 8
A brilliant performance to end his Lions’ career. A steady head (until Kaino) to lead the pack forward.
Maro Itoje – 8.5
An exceptional performance from the young man, proving his mettle once again. Great in the lineout, and his legs were used to good effect to give covering support and get to breakdowns quickly.
Sam Warburton – 8.5
The flanker pulled out the performance to go with his leadership credentials. Fantastic behind the scenes work and slowing the All Black master plan, with plenty of ‘Leave it Six!’ calls from Poite. Turned over a few times and his twisting recovery turnover in the Lions 22 will be one to savour. One of the players instrumental to winning the last game and drawing this one.
Sean O’Brien – 8
Covered in behind Sexton well, particularly with his fellow Leinster team mate taking the ball into contact so often. Removed after the break due to an injury, and the pack suffered for it.
Toby Faletau – 7.5
Plenty of tackles including a crunching one to put Barrett on his back. Had buckets of intensity and did well to overcome his shackling by the All Black back row.
Ken Owens – N/A
It would be harsh to have blamed the final scrum on Owens. Wasn’t on long enough to justify a rating. Replaced George 70′
Jack McGrath – 7
Scrum improved by his introduction. Replaced Vunipola 60′
Kyle Sinckler – 7
Am beginning to wonder if these highly visible performances may just mean he’s an incredible tighthead… Replaced Furlong 60’
Courtney Lawes – 7.5
Whilst the majority of his carries are good, I feel his long body doesn’t help him and his top half often looks to get isolated. Brought some much needed intensity following AWJ’s star gazing. Replaced Alun Wyn Jones 50′
CJ Stander – 7.5
O’brien is a hard act to follow, but Stander did not shirk the physicality and instead thrived off it. An added handful for the All Black pack.
Rhys Webb – N/A
There was a moment when sparky Webb looked like he might just win the series by himself. Sadly not to be. Roll on 6N. Could not justify a rating. Replaced Murray 70′
Ben Te’o – N/A
Came on for HIA briefly and replaced a battle battered Sexton 73′
Jack Nowell – N/A
Given orders to find space and make something happen. Didn’t see any of the ball to make any impact. Replaced Watson 73′
Last thoughts and collated results
Overall team rating – 7.84
First XV rating – 8.00
Individual nation ratings
Scotland player rating – N/A
England player rating – 7.81
Wales player rating – 8.00
Ireland player rating – 7.70
And another Lions series is concluded. Many predicted doom and gloom and a thrashing at the hands of the All Blacks in their front yard. A final win to nip the series would have been a cheeky cherry on top, but a draw was fair. The Lions can take so many positives from this tour and have shown how a northern hemisphere style of play can shackle the All Blacks.
By Dave Beach