The DHL Lions Series has concluded, with a drawn series after the 15-15 result on Saturday. The All Blacks have been held from their ambition of holding back the best of Britain. And with this ‘Lions series wrap’ it is time to reflect on the highlights and best combined starting XV.

Over the course of the British and Irish Lions tour, many Last Word on Rugby contributing writers have covered this highly popular series. From the squad selection in April, our team has analysed and followed the action on the field, and off, right up to July 8.

To finalize our LWOR coverage, each writer has been asked to provide a ‘Top moment’ and to list their starting XV from a combination of New Zealand and British and Irish Lions players. The first in our end of Lions series wrap begins with Senior Editor, Scott Hornell.

All Blacks Double-Strike in First Test Turns the Tide

54th minute – a period of good territorial advantage, the New Zealand attacking scrum was a good point of attack. Kieran Read held the ball, with Connor Murray sniping the edge. Read appeared to lose control but play was allowed to proceed.

With Israel Dagg managing to ship the ball to Aaron Cruden, his long pass found the waiting Rieko Ioane to score a classic movement.

The Lions rightly objected. “Knock on??” and it appeared to be so. But under closer vision, Murray had kicked the ball which landed sweetly in Read’s hands. Falling forward, his around the corner feed to Smith was world-class, and the try stood. Boom!

69th minute – ball falls into the home sides hands TJ Perenara executes a first-class lobbed kick. This well timed kick was chased hard by Ioane. He arrived at the same time as the ball bounced–never a good defensive ploy–once the tall winger caught the ball, his explosive speed saw him blitz Elliot Daly for his second try.

Boom! Boom! A double-strike that more than halted the Lions first test hopes. Classic All Blacks play: absorb pressure, and then counter-attack. It was what fans expected….that was, until Wellington shattered fans high expectations of a whitewash.

Scott’s Combined DHL Lions Series Starting XV

  1. Joe Moody – his scrum intelligence means he repels any challenger
  2. Codie Taylor – has wider game than Jamie George, possibly shaded in strength
  3. Tadhg Furlong – skilled and abrasive young prop. See’s off Faumuina
  4. Maro Itoje – two games, but still showed what an immensely talented lock he is
  5. Sam Whitelock – plays the tough guy role, but also has delicate touch in open play
  6. Sean O’Brien – gets the nod for first test try and brutal work at ruck and maul
  7. Sam Warburton – his play was of the highest calibre, more polished than Kaino
  8. Kieran Read – managed over three games, to outshine Toby Faletau….just
  9. Aaron Smith – his pass and awareness gives an edge over Murray
  10. Beauden Barrett – undoubetly, first-strike number 10. Only fault: place kicking!
  11. Elliot Daly – did not score a try, but universal skills and penalty in third test was crucial
  12. Owen Farrell – wider skills base than Sexton and shades Anton Lienert-Brown for class
  13. Jonathon Davis – the most complete player, and would hold off any International center
  14. Israel Dagg – complete game, long kick and that energetic attitude
  15. Liam Williams – with Ben Smith concussed, had more positive influence on games.
On Balance – 7 All Blacks/8 Lions

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The second ‘Top moment’ of the Lions series wrap is from contributor Aaron Tillyer.

The visitors may not have won the DHL Lions Series; as they set out to do, but there are an abundance of positives to take away. Warren Gatland will be the happier of the two coaches. Especially after being written off before the tour even began.

One of the positives will be Maro Itoje. Following the third test and subsequent series draw, Itoje is still unbeaten against New Zealand when he has started, in eight attempts. A combination of both age grade and senior level rugby.

Ohhh Maro Itoje! The Coming of Age for English Lock

Itoje really came of age in the second test against the All Blacks. So much so, that veteran lock Alun Wyn Jones joined in with the fans singing his name after the game.

Itoje was monumental in Wellington. To have English, Welsh, Irish and Scottish fans singing his name, shows just what a player he is. In the 24-21 second test win of the DHL Lions Series, Itoje’s defensive performance helped stop the All Blacks advance.

The second-row led the tackle count for the Lions, preventing the All Blacks from scoring a try [the first time since August 2014]. The 22-year old stood up and carried eight times for his side to get them on the front foot. Being given the role of calling the line outs shows just how much the coaches believe in his talents.

The win in Wellington was an Itoje masterclass. The foundations he set gave the Lions the impetus to win the match. The Lions may have been singing his name after the game, but the rugby world will have stood up in awe of the young man’s heroics.

Aaron’s Combined DHL Lions Series Starting XV

  1. Mako Vunipola
  2. Jamie George
  3. Owen Franks
  4. Maro Itoje
  5. Sam Whitelock
  6. Jerome Kaino
  7. Sean O’Brien
  8. Kieran Read
  9. Conor Murray
  10. Beauden Barrett
  11. Reiko Ioane
  12. Owen Farrell
  13. Jonathan Davies
  14. Elliot Daly
  15. Jordie Barrett

On Balance – 7 All Blacks/8 Lions

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The third ‘Top moment’ of the Lions series wrap is from contributor Robert Rees.

The All Blacks led the series one-nil after the opening salvo. During the second test, it was poised at 18-9, with New Zealand holding the lead. The Lions desperately needed a score to get back in the game, however a penalty didn’t seem like it would be enough.

Who would be ‘the man’ to step up? For mine, it was the experienced, Tongan-born Welsh International.

Taulupe Faletau Try, and the Start of the Comeback

Deep in New Zealand territory, the pressure started to mount as the visitors pioneered an attack that would ultimately start the most important comeback of any Lions tour since 1971. As Johnny Sexton ran towards the retreating defenders ,it was his cut-out pass to Owen Farrell, that got Lions fans on the edge of their seats.

With the Welsh duo of Liam Williams and Taulupe Faletau outside him, the pass from Williams was agonizing. Not in the ‘bread basket’ and forcing Faletau to take a moment to avoid over-running it, he showed his experience and class. Opposing him, Israel Dagg closed in but in a feat of shear strength only a number eight could summon, he bowled Dagg over and slid over in the corner.

Faletau’s Monumental Effort Put the Tour Back on Course

This brought the test back within a winnable reach for the Lions, who ultimately won it at the end thanks to an Farrell penalty. Time elapsed till the final whistle, in a monumental effort that saw the World Champion home team; unbeaten in NZ since 2009, come crashing down to a defeat.

The try was the pendulum swinging into the Lions hands. The turning point of the tour. Any disappointments that had been laid out previously, were removed. The momentum was with the visitors, and so the third test would determine the tours fate.

After Saturday night, the DHL Lions Series was drawn. But with that outcome, it all sprung from the seed planted by Faletau in the corner of the Westpac Stadium ground, on July 1st, 2017.

Robert’s Combined DHL Lions Series Starting XV

  1. Mako Vunipola
  2. Codie Taylor
  3. Tadgh Furlong
  4. Brodie Retallick
  5. Maro Itoje
  6. Jerome Kaino
  7. Sam Warburton
  8. Taulupe Faletau
  9. Conor Murray
  10. Beauden Barrett
  11. Reiko Ioane
  12. Ben Te’o
  13. Jon Davies
  14. Anthony Watson
  15. Israel Dagg

On Balance – 6 All Blacks/9 Lions

There we have it, but what are your thoughts? Leave a comment and share with your rugby mates, to have your say on our contributors teams selections.

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Follow Last Word on Rugby, as we continue our ‘End of Lions Series Wrap’ with more DHL Lions Series memories and starting combinations planned for tomorrow.

 

“Main photo credit”

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