The British and Irish Lions beat New Zealand 24-21 to win the second Test in Wellington and keep their hopes of a series victory alive.
It was a scrappy and ill-disciplined match at the Westpac Stadium, that saw Sonny Bill Williams become the first All Black since 1967 to be sent off after shoulder charging Anthony Watson.
Despite the hosts’ disadvantage, Steve Hansen’s side still managed to take the Lions to the edge.
Tries from Toby Faletau and Conor Murray eventually secured victory for visitors to draw the series level.
Here’s five things we learned:
If now now, then when?
Everything was in the Lions’ favour on Saturday. They could not have wished for better circumstances to finally beat the All Blacks. The weather stopped New Zealand playing their usual magical rugby and the rain pounded down in Wellington as the Lions played 60 minutes against 14 men following Sonny Bill’s dismissal. And as if that wasn’t enough, the world’s best player in the shape of Beauden Barrett couldn’t kick to goal.
For a long time it looked like the Lions wouldn’t take advantage of all of this but then two tries from Faletau and Murray drove through the heart of the All Blacks and history was made. Although the visitors looked far from the real deal, they dug deep to flash with brilliance and passion to eventually break down a stubborn New Zealand side. All eyes now to Auckland.
Referee Garces makes a point
In the country where it is said nothing is ever given against the All Blacks, referee Jerome Garces handed New Zealand their first red card since 1967. Sonny Bill’s shoulder charge to the head of Watson left the Lion crumpled on the ground and the dual-coder marching off the field.
So much has been made of the refereeing on this tour with Gatland calling for the protection on his players and Garces certainly looked to take that on board in his decision. His TMO and assistants were seemingly encouraging him to keep looking at the replays to avoid awarding the red card but Garces was sure. And he was correct, too.
Itoje roars up front
Gatland called the decision to pick Alun Wyn Jones over Maro Itoje in the first Test as a “toss of the coin decision” but he paired the two for the second Test and was more than rewarded. Itoje’s name rang all around Wellington after a stunning, crippling turnover in the first half.
His performance inspired those around him, as Jones looked fired up and powerful in the lineout while Sam Warburton proved why he is the Northern Hemisphere breakdown king. The All Blacks battered the Lions in the first Test up front and Gatland responded. And looking at Itoje, so did his players.
Lions kicking game plays key role
One of the surprises of Gatland’s selection was the omission of Ben Te’o so he could pair Owen Farrell with Johnny Sexton. Initially it was thought he did it for the extra playmaker but as the rain fell in Wellington it became apparent that the reason was because of the weather and how Gatland wanted to put pressure on the likes of Israel Dagg under the high ball.
And that’s exactly what happened. Liam Williams twice prompted knock-ons from the All Blacks, once from a bomb of his own and then again from a restart. Once Williams was sent off, they tried to force their kicking a bit more, going for territory rather than height, which didn’t prove as fruitful as their initial plan. But the inclusion of two fly-halves appeared to be justified.
Ill-discipline nearly kills it for the Lions
It was an ugly and scrappy affair at the Westpac Stadium – one that was littered with numerous penalties, dropped balls and sloppy tackles. As such, the Lions struggled to find their rhythm against the hosts – even after Sonny Bill had been sent to the stands.
The visitors notably gave away four penalties in the first 13 minutes of the second half, against a side with 14 men. It showcased a lack of composure and maturity from Gatland’s men who struggled to assert themselves against a numerically inferior side. Although Barrett missed a number of his kicks throughout the match, the Lions kept on handing him opportunities to further extend the All Blacks’ lead.
Mako Vunipola’s yellow card on the 55-minute mark was deserving and summed up the Lions’ ill-discipline as a whole. Were it not for their late fightback, there’s no doubt that the visitors would have been the architects of their own downfall.