The High Five: All Blacks vs British and Irish Lions, third Test

Diggercane Roar Guru

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    The British and Lions have drawn the curtain on their 2017 New Zealand tour, drawing the third Test match against New Zealand in a tense and enthralling affair in front of over 48,000 fans at Eden Park in Auckland, the match ending in a 15-all draw.

    The result sees the Lions level their Test series against the All Blacks after heading into the match at one each. They finish with an overall record of played 10, won five, lost three and drawn two. This series marks the first drawn series between the two sides in the ten series to date.

    Both sides threw everything into the contest as the match went right down to the wire and despite the anti-climatically finish to the series, it was a tremendous result. Overall it was a good tour for the Lions with most picking they would struggle heavily on tour.

    Impatience costly
    This would probably apply to both sides but certainly for the All Blacks as a number of handling errors permeated their performance and proved costly. Arguably several scoring opportunities were shelled with a lack of patience, a lack of patience in forcing the pass a number of times and simple handling errors letting themselves down at crucial moments.

    Such errors are always likely when trying to play at a breakneck pace against a well organised defence such as the Lions but a more tempered approach with ball in hand would have likely paid dividends.

    Codie Taylor All Blacks New Zealand Rugby Union 2017

    . (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

    Rookies shine
    There was plenty of nerves around the selections made by the All Black coaching staff, with most of the attention focused on the two players making their first Test starts in such a big match – Ngani Laumepe and Jordie Barrett.

    They were in fact quite solid, both playing a large part in scoring both of the All Blacks tries and Laumepe causing plenty of headaches with ball in hand. The younger Barrett diffused many Lions attacking kicks with authority, sound at the back all match.

    Unfortunately, it was the recalled and experienced Julian Savea who probably struggled the most. His hands really let him down at times and certainly caused a golden opportunity to slip early in the match.

    Then it could be argued several of the All Blacks more experienced players let themselves down at times, whether with ill-discipline or poor options so it would be unfair to single out one player.

    However there is plenty to be positive about considering the number of young players that have been picked and now exposed to the highest level of the game, which should stand the All Blacks in good stead moving forward.

    Lions defence
    The determination and spirit of this Lions side was quite something to behold at times. Their defence in particular was stressed a number of times, yet they continued to hold fast for the majority.

    Raid after raid was repelled and their ability to constantly frustrate the All Blacks at the ruck – robbing their opponents of momentum and forcing the New Zealanders into numerous errors – was a key factor in their positive results in this series and certainly in this match. Holding the All Blacks to five tries in New Zealand across three matches is nothing to be sneezed at.

    No other player epitomised this more than the Lions Welsh centre Jonathan Davies, who was a constant defensive rock in midfield. His quality decision making halted the All Blacks’ momentum in midfield on numerous occasions throughout the three Test matches and was to me a real point of difference between the two sides. He was easily the best midfielder from the three Test series and showing the benefit of experience in such a vital position on the field.

    Controversy reigns
    It would hardly be a hardly fitting to get through a match of this magnitude without a spot of controversy and unfortunately this match proved no different. The bizarre circumstances surrounding the late penalty reversal to a scrum for an accidental offside, a decision which has caused plenty of angst and confusion in rugby circles, will be magnified and scrutinised for a while to come.

    After awarding what seemed a regulation, if unfortunate, penalty against the Lions for Ken Owens playing at the ball in an offside position after the ball was knocked forward in the air by a fellow Lions player, Poite then decided to consult the TMO to ensure accuracy. At first, they appeared to be in agreement, yet further consultation somehow encouraged him to change his mind, deciding a scrum to the All Blacks was the correct call and so it was.

    A truly confusing and staggering period in the match and seemingly, the pressure of the situation perhaps affected the men in charge. I cannot for the life of me remember any similar circumstance before but right or wrong, it’s done and perhaps an example of why one should always question the referee as now, he might just change his mind!

    The Lions must continue
    There can be no doubt that the Lions are a special part of rugby union and surely must stay as a regular fixture on the rugby calendar for many moons to come. This tour was a raging success, the ups and downs over the past six weeks have captured the imagination and the colour, fanfare and prosperity such tours bring to the host nation cannot be underestimated.

    Suggestions that the tours can no longer continue are absolutely baffling to me. Ot would be a sad, sad day to see them discontinued and for the famous red strip to be consigned to the dustbin, not to mention not being able to mingle with the fantastic fans that really do make these tours a raging success.

    I am already determined to be more organised for the next round in 12 years and cannot wait for them to return already!

    That brings the High Five for this match and the Lions tour to a close, though there are plenty more talking points to consider not only from this match, but across the whole tour.

    To finish off with, here is my combined team from the three Test matches played
    15. Jordie Barrett
    14. Israel Dagg
    13. Jonathan Davies
    12. Owen Farrell
    11. Anthony Watson
    10. Beauden Barrett
    9. Connor Murray
    8. Kieran Read
    7. Sean O’Brien
    6. Jerome Kaino
    5. Brodie Retallick
    4. Maro Itoje
    3. Owen Franks
    2. Jamie George
    1. Mako Vunipola

    A Rotundity and happy ex hooker who just loves Rugby really, oh and my kids and Kendra of course who lets me watch as much Rugby as I want, mostly. Follow Digby Ross on Twitter @Diggercane.

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