Lions level series in thriller


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    The British and Irish Lions have levelled the 2017 series, after beating New Zealand in a thriller, 24-21, in the Westpac Stadium, Wellington.

    The game was one full of drama and intrigue. All Black Sonny Bill Williams was red carded early in the match, but the Lions were unable to take full advantage of their one-man overlap.

    Ill-discipline cost the Lions, with Beauden Barrett kicking seven penalties. It would have been more but he had an off day with the boot. Brilliant Lions defence kept the All Blacks from scoring a try, and New Zealand never really looked liked threatening the Lions line.

    The Lions scored two great tries, through Taulupe Falateau and Conor Murray. The game was 21-all, in the last minutes, but Owen Farrell kicked a penalty, and the Lions ran out winners.

    It was the first Lions victory over New Zealand since the second Test of the 1993 series (that game was actually played in Athletic Park, Wellington. Athletic Park was later knocked down and Westpac Stadium was built in its place).

    The poor weather conditions nullified the attacking flair of both teams, certainly in the first half. The advantage went back and forth, with Barrett and Owen Farrell exchanging penalties.

    Then toward the 20-minute mark, Williams had his moment of madness. Lions wing, Anthony Watson, had been tackled by a New Zealand player, and Williams charged into Watson’s head, shoulder first.

    The ref penalised him with a red card, and Williams became the first All Black to be red carded in 50 years (technically, rugby didn’t have red cards back then. Players were just ordered from the field).

    Sonny Bill Williams New Zealand All Blacks Rugby Union 2017

    (AAP Image/Dean Pemberton)

    Red cards are still a rarity in rugby, and only Elliot Daly and CJ Stander from the Lions 23 had received a red card while playing for their respective countries.

    It was a shame that such a brilliant, dynamic player had to leave the field in such circumstances and Williams will also miss the last Test as he has been given a four-week ban by the citing commission.

    Watson had to leave the field to undergo a head injury assessment (HIA), which he passed and returned to the game.

    The Lions were unable to capitalise on their one-man advantage and New Zealand tore ahead into the second half, 18-9. Then the ball made its way to Liam Williams, who passed on to Falateau, who barrelled through Israel Dagg to score in the corner. The angle was too far out for Farrell, though, and he missed the conversion.

    The score was now 18-14, and Barrett kicked another penalty after repeated infringements by Mako Vunipola. Vunipola was yellow carded and didn’t reappear on to the field, after the allotted ten minutes had expired, his place been taken by Jack McGrath.

    The Lions needed to score a converted try to stay in the game, and that’s exactly what they did. Jamie George made a strong break before going to ground close to the All Blacks line.

    Conor Murray picked the ball from the ruck and beat the defence to score from close range. Farrell slotted the conversion and the game went into the last ten minutes with both teams level, 21-all.

    Farrell kicked the winning penalty and the Lions kept New Zealand out. Murray kicked the ball into touch after the hooter sounded, and the stadium rocked to the sounds of the great Lions fans celebrating.

    The third Test has now become the decider for the series, which is ideal. The outcome is really too difficult to predict. The teams have been pretty level all series, with nothing much separating the sides.

    Conor Murray British and Irish Lions Rugby Union 2017

    (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

    The dilemma now for Warren Gatland is whether he retains the team that won the match, or makes some changes. Most of the pack played well, with George, Mario Itoje, Sean O’Brien and Falateau coming in for particular plaudits.

    Alun Wyn Jones was much improved on the first Test, with his replacement, Courtney Lawes having a good game as well. Vunipola gave away a number of penalties and will be lucky to start the last Test, he is better as an impact player anyway.

    Sam Warburton played well, linking with O’Brien. It was actually the first game the two had played together, though both had appeared on the 2013 tour as well as this one. The high penalty is a mark against his ability to control his team, however.

    Murray had a great game, capped by his try. The Sexton-Farrell combination worked well, though there could be an argument for bringing Dan Biggar in the last Test, for greater distribution.

    Davies and the back three did well, though had less of an effect on the game than they did last week, because of the poor conditions.

    The series has turned around now for the Lions players, and the pressure is on New Zealand. The deciding Test may well go down as one of the greatest games in rugby history.

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    The Crowd Says (20)

    • Roar Guru

      July 4th 2017 @ 6:59am
      DECLAN MURPHY said | July 4th 2017 @ 6:59am | ! Report

      I forgot to add that Sean O’Brien was cited as well for an incident in the match but has been cleared to play in the final test

    • July 4th 2017 @ 8:19am
      Waxhead said | July 4th 2017 @ 8:19am | ! Report

      ahh Declan – you’re at it again mate hehe.
      You go along just fine then make yourself look silly with comments like.

      “The third Test has now become the decider for the series, which is ideal. The outcome is really too difficult to predict. The teams have been pretty level all series, with nothing much separating the sides.”

      Ahh Declan – the 1st test was not close at all when 15 played 15.
      2nd Test Lions were just able to squeak home with 15 v 14.
      If 15 had played 15 ABs would have won again comfortably imo.

      Losing Sonny Bill this week will not hurt ABs – they’ve got several others just as great.
      At Eden Park only a 1 eyed Lions fan would pick them.
      But being Aussie I’m happy the Lions got so lucky last week as now we’ve got a great series decider to enjoy 🙂

      • July 4th 2017 @ 8:37am
        rebel said | July 4th 2017 @ 8:37am | ! Report

        Rubbish reply. This week is a decider and no foregone conclusion.

        • July 5th 2017 @ 12:30pm
          Marty said | July 5th 2017 @ 12:30pm | ! Report

          Hi Rebel,

          The bookies have NZ at about $1.18
          The people with money vested on the match certainly predict a one sided result.

        • July 6th 2017 @ 10:49pm
          Waxhead said | July 6th 2017 @ 10:49pm | ! Report

          Rubbish reply Rebel – You’re just agreeing with what I already said hahaha

      • July 4th 2017 @ 9:18am
        jonnyacidseed said | July 4th 2017 @ 9:18am | ! Report

        “Losing Sonny Bill this week will not hurt ABs – they’ve got several others just as great.”

        SBW shouldn’t be there in the first place. Bench player at best.

      • July 4th 2017 @ 10:08am
        Marto said | July 4th 2017 @ 10:08am | ! Report

        Waxhead @ You aint no aussie mate..I can pick a un zudder a mile away..

        • July 4th 2017 @ 5:31pm
          Jacko said | July 4th 2017 @ 5:31pm | ! Report

          You spend more time picking your nose ans ass I think

        • July 6th 2017 @ 10:47pm
          Waxhead said | July 6th 2017 @ 10:47pm | ! Report

          hahaha just shows how much you know Marto 🙂

    • July 4th 2017 @ 8:43am
      BBA said | July 4th 2017 @ 8:43am | ! Report

      I also think it was hard to gauge how effective the AB attack was given:

      The Lions kept giving penalties away (10 kickable shots at goal is a hell of a lot) indicating that if in doubt they preferred to infringe rather than risk the AB’s scoring tries. Therefore was it great defense or great infringing?

      The one man disadvantage for much of the game had an impact on attack (and you would think on defense as well as the players would have to work harder)

      Garces, who while I didn’t have a problem with his referring of the game, it is an observation that he is less inclined to play advantage than say a SH ref ie Peyper the week before. Accordingly infringing was less detrimental to creating try scoring chances.

      The weather makes try scoring chances relatively few really there was only one flowing move that lead to a try the whole game, (it was a good try though).

      But with the AB’s being a man down you would think the Lions would be disappointed that they couldn’t dominate a weakened 7 man AB scrum for much of the game and that they couldn’t dominate territory and possession.

      This leads me to conclude that while the attacking performance of the AB’s was disappointing in that game, it is not because they are unable to attack. Off course this is all part of the sub-plots that make the final test so compelling.

      • July 4th 2017 @ 9:30am
        Neil Back said | July 4th 2017 @ 9:30am | ! Report

        That’s a long bow BBA. Garces allowed plenty of leeway for New Zealand to develop an attacking threat post calling advantage. They didn’t create that threat – as they pretty much didn’t all game in normal play. In fact you could almost argue that the little enterprise they showed was when under the freedom of an advantage call.

    • July 4th 2017 @ 9:36am
      Ouch said | July 4th 2017 @ 9:36am | ! Report

      “The Lions kept giving penalties away”

      Especially in the 22. At what point does the ref yellow card someone for this? Rubbish play, same as the lineout yelling.

      • July 4th 2017 @ 1:31pm
        ajg said | July 4th 2017 @ 1:31pm | ! Report

        I agree that they got away with it and it frustrates me when teams get away with this.
        But I’d also submit that the kiwi super rugby teams and the All blacks have been using this as a strategy for years

        • July 4th 2017 @ 5:26pm
          FunBus said | July 4th 2017 @ 5:26pm | ! Report

          Nonsense. The frustration of the Lions coaches was palpable. They were furious because the vast majority of the penalties were conceded when the Lions were under no pressure. The attempted Vunipola charge down with the penalty given where the ball landed; a high tackle by Murray when the ABs were in retreat and the defense piling forward; a technical offside at the line out etc. The penalties weren’t being conceded because the defence was stressed. The penalties were keeping the ABs in the game not the Lions.

          • July 4th 2017 @ 5:34pm
            Jacko said | July 4th 2017 @ 5:34pm | ! Report

            Funbus who committed those penalties? THE LIONS…How is it even possible to blame anyone else for them conceding all those penalties…and that indicated it should have been a yellow against a Lion for repeated team infringments

            • July 4th 2017 @ 9:50pm
              FunBus said | July 4th 2017 @ 9:50pm | ! Report

              Not sure what you’re talking about. No-one’s suggested it was anyone’s fault but the Lions that they committed all those penalties. The argument was that they committed those penalties because they were under huge defensive pressure and it was a cynical, planned attempt to stop the ABs overrunning them. That’s the argument that was nonsense.

              • Roar Guru

                July 5th 2017 @ 12:16am
                taylorman said | July 5th 2017 @ 12:16am | ! Report

                Not sure if that’s any better for them, so your argument is they committed them willingly within kicking range so many times.

                Doesn’t bode well for their intelligence then.

      • July 4th 2017 @ 8:53pm
        mzilikazi said | July 4th 2017 @ 8:53pm | ! Report

        “The Lions kept giving penalties away” “Especially in the 22. At what point does the ref yellow card someone for this?”he total

        But the penalties were for a series of different offences…….not continually for the same offence. Therefore the ref can’t really consider a yellow card just on the basis of the total number of penalties given against the Lions.

    • July 4th 2017 @ 11:05am
      superba said | July 4th 2017 @ 11:05am | ! Report

      To my mind the Lions backline has it over NZ .
      3 linebreaks in the first test , one of which ended in a try , and 6:1 line breaks in the second test.I cannot recall a NZ backline being carved up like this in recent times .And of course one of the Lions tries last weekend was scored when each side had 14 on the field .
      I do hope the ref on Saturday is strict at the rucks , stopping NZ tackling opposition players within 2m of the ruck without the ball
      to create holes .This has been going on fir years .

    • July 4th 2017 @ 12:43pm
      Rick Page said | July 4th 2017 @ 12:43pm | ! Report

      Ah the vexed career of Sonny Bill. Because the selectors rate him so highly and because he did some great things like the offload to Nonu in the WC final because he bends the defensive line with his strong running and such a good defender himself, my doubts about him are always qualified but he never became the player he could be in Rugby because Nonu is the standard.
      Nonu an undisciplined ego centric mascara wearing winger, thrown into the centres who dropped the b/s got self discipline and matured and became one of the greatest ever in his position.
      You’re talking about 2 guys with the same physical attributes, forget SBW Adonis <5% body fat, these are two guys with similar size and strength.
      Nonu is the superior player because he had time to develop, he played pretty much only rugby, he had the schooling and the time to grow his game, including quite late in his career, an astute kicking game, something SBW doesn’t have. Nor does he have the Nonu pace off the mark or the step.
      I’m sorry for what Sonny must be (or should be? Does he?) feeling but he has to take the full blame for his failure there, if he had chosen to use his arms in the tackle he would have had to wrap both Naholo and Watson – since Watson was kinda hugged into Naholo by the held up tackle – he didn’t use his arms thus he was aiming to hit Watson alone. Maybe he told his hearing some sort of tenuous argument like he was trying to jolt the ball out but that’d be pretty hard to believe when the contact was with the head. It looked deliberate and dirty and dangerous and I think it was. It was also a massive fail of discipline and leadership from a guy that had been bought into the leadership group.
      I’m actually surprised because Sonny Bill hasn’t been a dirty player, so maybe I got it totally wrong but that’s how i I see it.
      It reminded me of Richard Loe’s targeting of Paul Carozza’s head. Sonny Bill should be relieved that Watson wasn’t badly hurt.
      He’s done pretty amazing in 3 sports but if he had focussed on rugby only, he could have become one of the greats but the hype around is overdone given yes he’s the best around in one skill, like Folau offloads and aerial superb – both very good rugby players but not great.
      Still think Sonny is best off the bench of you can start Crotty/ALB
      Now they go to the third test without SBW ‘leadership’ or his line bending thrust which they also lost at Wgtn as well as from Kaino, 2 big losses there, that counted against them in the end.
      So far this season, they also lost the leadership and organisation of Crotty and Ben Smith, Jules Savea’s form too and young, inexperienced guys like Ioane and Laumape have to start their careers in the toughest imaginable environment, both understandably and forgivably, spilling important passes near the death from the pressure of the situation.
      This is not the backline that ruled the world last year, it doesn’t even have Dane Coles on the wing! So yes SBW’s red card made a big difference but can’t be sure how much because the Lions defence was still awesome and better organised than the AB’s – albeit we were a man down and that affected the pack also of course.
      Back at Eden Park this week this AB team with 4-5 first choice starters out (inc NMS who was out last year also but is missed) have a “more fragile” backline than last year, so it’s up to the best forward pack in the world to dominate, as in the first test for the front foot ball they’ll need.
      They were looking likely to get the scrum ascendency at Wgtn, lineout good enough, Cody Taylor rising to the responsibility excellently, considering it was Coles then no one, not so long ago.
      We need the Kaino’s, Reads, Retallicks, to push through for the go forward and have that Lions rush defence back footed. By now the Lions’ well must be getting pretty deep, at the end of a real long season and arduous tour. So it’s hard to see the AB’s not getting that ascendency given the occasion and those names, in the whole of that AB forward pack, even though the Lions know what’s coming and have everything to play for themselves
      I don’t see Lions winning at Eden Park but whatever happens, this Lions tour is already a success on the park, big ask to come to NZ and do as well as they have so far. Its been very good for the AB’s to face the excellent Andy Farrell blitz defence, with the same coming up next year V England plus WC after.
      As in 1971 the Lions have a thing or two to teach NZ rugby and to see them play with so much heart made losing at Wgtn easier to take for me , though for bitch, I still wish Cruden had kept it in hand. Their intensity went way high through desperation and they had the chance to pull off a win like against Ireland few years back or even a penalty in front, in which case a draw would have been as good as a win under the circumstances.
      The Lions are onto those wide kicks and wide passes and have them covered and at best 100% in retention becomes a 50/50 proposition, too many players have been bringing super rugby v Lions, which is a team built around defence and something entirely different, again, great for NZ rugby.
      I see the forecast for Auckland is rain, I don’t think that’s helps the AB’s any but that ground at least soaks up like a sponge and I think AB’s will back themselves to run at them, off the muscular go forward they’ll be demanding of themselves.
      They went to Wgtn with a conservative game plan given the Lions had to win and maybe they thought there’d be mistakes, they could feed off but ended up having to be more conservative after the red card.
      I expect Eden Park to continuous attacking of the defensive line, phase on phase, more physical, more proactive and less kicking as compared to Wgtn, given the intensity they need to bring and their feeling they didn’t front up so well last time.
      Lions backline sets deep on attack makes them look more effective then the flatter AB line, more effective than they are, so its up to the AB’s to create from continual and sustained ball movement and challenging the line, accepting Warburton and OBrien will get their share of turnovers, even with AB’s hitting the rucks hard.
      More, hard, close in AB running as in first test, pick and go, to extend the rush defence. They’ll be able to get in behind often enough to score some tries.
      Well that about covers it!

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