The British and Irish Lions will share the 2017 series with New Zealand, after drawing the last test, 15-15. It’s the first time that the Lions have drawn a series with New Zealand after 12 tours.
While it wasn’t the win that the Lions would have been looking for, it was still a tremendous achievement by the players and coaching staff, to draw a test series with the reigning, double, World Champions, especially as a lot of people, fans and pundits alike, were convinced that they would suffer a whitewash in the series.
The Lions’ players had been faced with the toughest itinerary in the tour’s history. After only a week of preparation, they were required to play 10 matches in the space of 5 weeks.
Those matches would be against the 5 New Zealand Super Rugby teams, the Maori All Blacks and a 3 test series against arguably the best team in the world. With the first game taking place only 4 days after the players had arrived in New Zealand.
The tour got off to a poor start for the Lions, after struggling to beat the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians, and then suffering a loss to the Blues, the weakest of the 5 club sides they would be facing.
Things looked bleak for the Lions’ first big game, against the Crusaders. But the Lions shocked everyone by handily beating the club that had topped the Super Rugby table, and denying them a try for the first time in 12 years.
But another Lions loss, this time to the Highlanders, had the naysayers out in force again. There was no doubt that the Lions would lose against the Maori, a team that was unbeaten against international sides since 2003, and had beaten the 2005 Lions.
The 2017 Lions were made of sterner stuff, though, and handed the Maori one of their heaviest defeats, 32-10. The midweek side’s first win of the tour, against the Chiefs, buoyed Lions fans optimism for the upcoming first test.
If the Lions were going to have a chance in any of the tests, logic dictated that it would be the first test. It was in this test that the Lions would be the most likely to catch New Zealand unawares.
The Lions put in an impressive performance but were handily beaten in the first test, 30-15. The situation was made worse by the midweek side’s inability to get the tour back on track, drawing the final midweek game, against the Highlanders.
Many predicted that the All Blacks would open the floodgates for the second test, but they were unable to get a grip on the game, with Beauden Barrett missing his kicks and their star centre, Sonny Bill Williams, been red carded. The Lions were finally able to take advantage of New Zealand’s misfortune and they won the second test, 24-21.
Even after the Lions win, though, people still doubted them and their coach Warren Gatland, and believed that the final test would prove the naysayers predictions true: Lions would be put to the sword.
Instead, the Lions never let New Zealand get away from them in the match. The Lions were helped by Beauden Barrett having another off day with his kicking, and New Zealand making mistakes, that kept the Lions level with New Zealand, 15-all.
Then, substitute hooker, Ken Owens, caught the ball while offside and New Zealand looked to be awarded the wining penalty. The referee, Romain Poite, decided that the accidental offside didn’t constitute a penalty offence, and awarded the scrum to New Zealand.
The decision has come in for a lot of criticism, though the New Zealand squad and coaches had accepted it. The law seems to state that accidental offside is a penalty offence, full stop, but Poite went against the letter of the law in this instance.
While his decision can be disputed, it seemed fair that the series ended in a draw. Overall, nothing much divided the teams and it’s fitting that they share the series.
It has to be said that it was a tremendous achievement by the Lions squad, especially the saturday/test players who won the big games against the Crusaders and the Maori and held the All Blacks to a series draw.
Some players deserve special praise:
MARIO ITOJE: the young player returns as one of the best second rows in the world. He also showed great leadership qualities, on and off the field, and looks to be a future England, and Lions, captain.
ALUN WYN JONES: while he played below his legendary status, he became only the seventh player to play a series for the Lions against all 3 of the Southern Hemisphere giants: South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand.
PETER O’MAHONY: though he suffered the ignominy of going from captaining the Lions in the first test to being left out of the 23 entirely for the second and final tests, the Munster man had a great tour, capped off by leading the Lions in their famous win against the Maori. Should lead Ireland into the next World Cup, and beyond.
SEAN O’BRIEN: enhanced his already powerful reputation with blistering form all through the 5 most important games. It’s hoped that his injury, sustained during the last test, is not a serious one. Leinster and Ireland need him back.
TALUPE FALATEAU: the loss of his cousin, Billy Vunipola, before the tour started seemed a blow to the Lions chances of success but Falateau was a tremendous replacement. He put in incredible performances, both in defence and attack, over the test series.
CONOR MURRAY: another player that enhanced an already strong reputation. Became the first Northern Hemisphere player to score 4 tries against the All Blacks.
OWEN FARRELL: was the coaches go to man for the series, and delivered under enormous pressure. Another young player with an already great reputation.
JONATHAN DAVIES: his fellow tourist’s pick for player of the series, his initial selection seemed to be based more on reputation than his form at the time, but he put in a mesmeric display in all 3 of the tests. Even better than the 2013 series.
SAM WARBURTON: second tour as captain and, along with Mako Vunipola, Jones, O’Brien, Falateau, Jonny Sexton, Farrell and Davies, he remains undefeated in a Lions test series after 2 tours.
WARREN GATLAND: all credit to the coach. He came under a lot of criticism during the tour, from all sides and some of it personal, but stuck to his guns and pulled off an amazing (moral) victory. Some are now pipping him to take over as New Zealand coach after the 2019 World Cup.
‘One day a feather duster, the next a crowing rooster’!
And so the 2017 Lions tour comes to an end. After 5 weeks, it’s been an amazing experience. One of the most exciting tours (maybe the rugby hasn’t been great at times but the matches have been full of excitement) in recent memory.
There has been a lot of talk of reducing the amount of time devoted to the Lions. A truncated tour, of 4 weeks and 8 games, has been bandied around.
I hope, and fervently wish, that this tour has shown what a valuable commodity the Lions is, and how pivotal it is and how it should remain as is. The rugby calendar would be the worst WORSE if it was changed. It’s only every 4 years. I’m sure clubs could work around it