A week removed from the British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand, it is only fitting that Last Word on Rugby offer rugby fans a ‘Lions flashback’ to recall three key moments of the drawn series.
Our series of ‘Lions flashback’ videos have covered series from the 1930’s, with tours of New Zealand, Australia and South Africa recalled. The YouTube vignettes and footage took fans back to classic battles.
And in 2017, Lions fans saw their men face-down the World Champions; New Zealand’s All Blacks. It would be a sensational series, ending in a tied match 15-15 on Eden Park–a ground that the All Blacks had not lost on, since 1994. That result saw the Lions retain the DHL series trophy [after defeating Australia in 2013].
#1 New Zealand v British and Irish Lions 2017
The three test DHL Lions Series were forwarded by a tour of New Zealand that did not begin prosperously. After the elongated build-up, a side would face the Provincial Barbarians–a team made up of players from the Meads/Lochore Cup Heartland Championship. In the traditions of earlier tours, the provincial representatives performed admirably.
NZ Provincial Barbarians 7 British and Irish Lions 13
From here, Warren Gatland would face the might of Super Rugby sides. A tough assignment, accepted by the Lions as the best preparations before the test matches. In fact, it would push the visitors to realize that the beat any New Zealand side, you could not ‘defend your way to victory’.
The opening game one of five Super Rugby franchises saw the tourists humbled. They did not bring enough certainty, which the Auckland Blues were much better practiced at.
Blues 22 British and Lions 16
The next match ‘righted the ship’ with victory over the NZ conference leading Canterbury Crusaders. The tough, heated battle defeated the hosts through shear tenacity. A large number of scrums, rucks and mauls, it was a Northern Hemisphere game. It was tight, it favoured the visitors, and settled the sides nerves.
Crusaders 3 British and Irish Lions 12
Again, the men in red would try the close-quarters pattern against the Otago Highlanders. Unfortunately, they broke down and a more motivated home side would outscore the visitors, winning with a final penalty kick.
Highlanders 23 British and Irish Lions 22
Threatened, it would take a much more polished performance in Rotorua, to display the Lions quality. Facing the NZ Maori team; who held a highly talented group of Super Rugby and former All Black players. It was considered the fourth test, and as the Lions gained dominance in the wet conditions, it boosted their confidence and team unity.
Maori All Blacks 10 British and Irish Lions 32
The next step on the Lions flashback is a game that would display how dangerous the visitors were. They met the Waikato Chiefs, and were determined to ‘take no prisoners’. With players hoping to secure test selection, the midweek game gave the touring Lions fans something to cheer about. And the best step towards the first test up the road [in Auckland].
Chiefs 6 British and Irish Lions 34
Now, for the first test. It was the most key point of the tour so far. Forget all the challenges by franchise or provincial opponents, now it was the World Champions. The All Blacks demolished Samoa 78-0 in a display of the home sides strength – their 23 man game.
Lions Flashback – First Test, June 24
The video link for this game shows that the first test was a demonstration for the hosts. They showed the ability to absorb and then react to the visitors attack. All credit to the Lions, who placed a real challenge down–their try in the 35th minute was the best of the whole tour.
New Zealand 30 British and Irish Lions 15
While the result went the way of the All Blacks, underlying confidence from the visitors was evident. They would need to play a fast-paced game, to out play the hosts. Up front, the battle may have been equal, with the backlines too holding each other in check (mostly). Counter attack would be preferable to set play. So the Lions would need to adapt.
New Zealand 21 British and Irish Lions 24
This was the first loss for New Zealand in eight seasons at home. They were bested in the trying conditions–weather related, and through a red card.
Sonny Biull Williams gave himself a new moniker: only the third All Black to ever be sent from the field. The controversial figure was lost for a rugby league style shoulder-charge on Anthony Watson. It altered the balance, and with missed kicks from Beauden Barrett costing more than usual, the home side could not halt the Lions challenge.
Toby Faletau was instrumental, with his try in the 59th minute try. Along with Conor Murray, the two strikes would bring the scores level at 21-21. With the final Owen Farrell penalty, it took the shared series up to Eden Park.
‘Lions Flashback’ – Third Test Sets Up Tour Finale
It would come down to this. A grand finale, with as much on the line, as any Rugby World Cup match-up. The atmosphere was white hot, with the 20,000 plus Lions supporters in full voice.
Warren Gatland’s men would put up a real fight, matching the All Blacks blow-for-blow. The video below illustrates an intensity that would be to the credit of the British Isles nations. While Scotland was not represented, the full support back home and on tour was evidence that the Lions brand was far from dead.
New Zealand 15 British and Irish Lions 15 – match, and series drawn.
Last Word on Rugby, and all the contributing writers will recall their favourite moments and MVP selections. For mine, the MVP of the series was a close run thing. Sam Warburton and Kieran Read holding aloft the trophy is an image that is both a core value of the game; rugbyunited, and showed the amount of respect from both parties.
Warburton spoke to BBC Sport on his arrival home, “the response back home has been pretty positive. “Coming into the tour not many people gave us much of a chance, the odds were against us, so to surprise a few people by drawing was good.”
#LionsNZ2017, you've been amazing!!!
— British&Irish Lions (@lionsofficial) July 12, 2017
All ten of the tour matches were played in a positive manner. The entire tour brought credibility to the British and Irish Lions. It holds a strong future, and the 2021 tour of South Africa is in little doubt according to John Spencer.
Spencer told The Guardian “a Lions tour is special. It is much more valuable and has a much higher place in world rugby. To let it fade away just for political reasons would be madness to me.”