THE LIONS HEAD TO EDEN PARK WITH HISTORY IN THEIR SIGHTS and there is a reason I have written that in capitals and bold, basically because the majority of the rugby world thought this just would not be the case. An epic win in Wellington of 21-24 has set up this three match series perfectly and when the British and Irish Lions turn up at New Zealand’s Auckland fortress they will think they can do it and why not.
SBW THE STUPID
So after their defeat in the first test 30-15 the Lions bounced back in the Windy City capital of their hosts. A strange game that was pretty much par for the course in rain sodden conditions until All Black centre Sonny Bill Williams decided to have a massive brain fade and idiotically shoulder Anthony Williams in the face with a no arms tackle. RED said referee Jerome Garces, who had an excellent game apart from a consistency lapse when Mako Vunipola did a similar thing to Beauden Barrett, but yellow was the call on that occasion. New Zealand actually controlled the game when down to 14 and will rule the three missed penalty kicks, as well as a poorly placed grubber kick by Barrett which allowed Elliot Daly to foil a certain try, 9-13 points left on the field, which was the difference between winning and losing. All in all the New Zealnd fly half had a very average game by his standards, still managed to score all of the hosts 21 points though.
PARTY TIME – EVENTUALLY
The Lions did their best to throw away their advantage. They were actually the slightly better team 15v15, then again when 14v14, when Vunipola was sent to the sin bin, though by this time fatigue had set into the New Zealanders. Fair play though the northern hemisphere visitors managed to get over the whitewash twice, which was crucial as they eventually tied the game, then took the lead with under three minutes left, thanks to an Owen Farrell penalty and then held on after frantic attempts by the All Blacks to at least get level. Eventually the tourists got hold of the ball and managed the clock to record a famous victory and the explosion of joy from the many many many fans who had come to the other side of the world to support their British and Irish Lion heroes, a night none of them will EVER forget.
PLAYERS STEP UP TO THE PLATE
Warren Gatland took the plaudits, though I personally think he actually managed the game poorly, especially as New Zealand took total control of the game even a man light and should have been much further ahead before the Wales national coach actually decided to make some changes. For me it was the players that got him off the hook by gambling a bit more against the 14 men in black in front of them.Captain Sam Warburton was full of praise for the team and questioned those who thought the Lions couldn’t do it, all i’d say about that is if it had stayed 15 v 15 all game or stayed at 14 v 14 late in the game, would they have prevailed, I doubt it bearing in mind they only won by three points, despite being a man up for well over half the match. The one positive, and it is a huge one, is that they won despite the performance and to be fair to Gatland he will know a lot of things went his teams way and they took full advantage, which is a skill in itself.
The Lions after a gruelling tour will have a couple of days off and head to Queenstown, as they have no midweek game to prepare for, so can fully focus on the now deciding test this coming Saturday. I would imagine team selection would be pretty easy, though it would not surprise me at all to see the odd tinker or two, as previously mentioned they may have won but it was not a stellar a Lions performance as the coach would have wanted. As for the New Zealanders, they will have a lot of thinking to do. They actually played very well but were let down by one players stupidity and for once Beauden Barrett’s boot. They were very gracious in defeat across the players and coaching staff, saying the Lions deserved to win, however they will know it was match they will feel they should not have lost, even being a man down.
A DENOUEMONT AT EDEN
So this coming Saturday when the dust has settled, the euphoria and disappointment, dependent on which side you are on, will have died down, who is going to prevail?Everyone knows the stat that the All Blacks have not lost at Eden Park for 23 years (July 3rd 1994 to be precise) and the Lions in a one off game have a great opportunity to smash that record, like they have done with New Zealand’s long standing unbeaten record on home turf. The only issue for me is, in Wellington virtually everything went for the Lions and they only just scrambled over the line. For me New Zealand keep 15 on the park and their heads, they will win the match and the series. The key is for the Lions to step up and cause their hosts the problems and maybe just maybe another glory night is on the cards and they will join the 1971 vintage as a Lions team that have beaten the New Zealanders on their turf. Roll on Saturday, it will be well worth the watch, rugby fan or not. HISTORY BECKONS – well maybe, they are up against the best rugby team on the planet and they very rarely have two off days in a row – but you never know.
Let me know what you think.
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