Lions rock New Zealand

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    It was an epic tour. Faith No More, almost epic. Emotions were high with so much at stake in a 12-year event.

    The Lions fans were something special. They came in their masses, sang and flowed along with what seemed like the ultimate holiday.

    I was in Wellington for the second test. It’s my home. The town really changed. The roads were closed around the CBD, and it had a carnival feel. I jumped on my bike wearing my diamond beanie – a signature hat of mine; it’s warm and it can probably pass as a helmet too.

    I enjoyed having no cars around on the street. I wore a red jumper that day. Just a random last-minute item to wear as it was cold. The Lions fans didn’t quite know what to think of me. An avid All Black supporter in some kind of disguise. Most of them trod carefully around me as if I was about to spring a surprise.

    But it was the Lions who surprised us. They were much better than what we all thought, and they improved immensely week by week. As Spiro mentioned in his Monday article, the stars seemed to align for them with the number of special players they had.

    Once the dust settled it was clear that these were the two best teams in the world, and when the two best come together one has to go away a loser. That seems a little unfair, but as we saw, it was a draw, so there were no losers really.

    From an All Black perspective there was frustration at the red card, the yellow card, the rub of the green for the Lions with the refereeing. Their slow-down tactics, Beauden Barrett missing kicks, and the final referee decision which may have changed the result. All that stings. Perhaps it stings more because it’s a once-in-12-year event. The Lions played their luck, and when you’re special sometimes things just go your way.

    As an All Black supporter you can get used to winning. You expect it, and expectations can let you down. What the Lions brought was high skill and an amazing team. For the first time in a while, the All Blacks had a new style facing them, and no easy points. The All Blacks had to play excellent rugby and finish well and make limited errors, but they didn’t – the red card, the yellow card, missed kicks and not taking their opportunities let them down.

    (Image: AAP Image/ David Rowland)

    The final test should have been finished in the first half. The killer punch was missing. Julian Savea dropping the ball with the line wide open was something I didn’t expect.

    The All Blacks left it to the death, and with a French referee that is not ideal. I thought he refereed okay right up until the 78th minute, where he doubted himself, his mind took over and the All Black nemesis, Jerome Garces, whispered into his ear and fuelled his doubts and fears.

    This has placed the All Blacks well going into the 2019 Rugby World Cup. They found Jordie Barrett. They found out they need a true test kicker, not a makeshift, and Jordie should be the key here.

    Head-high tackles will also kill the All Blacks. A match can be lost on one, as we saw. Read should learn, too. Holding a man back really cost his team. He should know better. It was a vital moment where it invited the Lions back in. If the All Blacks scored first in the second half, the game was almost over. Barrett from the halftime kickoff, followed by Reads indiscretion was a momentum destroyer.

    Any other day or team and the All Blacks would have got what they wanted, but this Lions team were special, and the Lions have possibly set the All Blacks to go to another level – they have to if they are to win the cup 2019. It looks bright to me. There was so much learning. The All Blacks will be hurting. It’s a reality check for them, and reality always comes in to show where you’re truly at.

    Sam Warburton was genuine and such a sincere, likeable captain. He was so deserving of the success he achieved, and he looked so happy at the end of it all.

    The All Blacks missed Dane Coles and Ben Smith. Their midfield shuffle and a red and a yellow card was too much. The Lions took it from there.

    Simplicity is often the key to life: it’s being free of the past, true to what has happened and, among the pain that reality gives, sometimes finding the wisdom that the experience came in for and growing from it.

    So it’s not too bad after all – it never really is if you keep your mind out of it.

    The All Blacks will be just fine. The Lions were spectacular, and so it is.

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