New Zealand 21-24 British and Irish Lions: Tourists win Wellington thriller
By Tony Tighe
Last Updated: 01/07/17 7:31pm
Owen Farrell kicked a pressure penalty three minutes from time to give the British and Irish Lions a dramatic 24-21 victory over 14-man New Zealand in Wellington.
The All Blacks had Sonny Bill Williams sent off on 25 minutes for a shoulder charge on Anthony Watson but Lions indiscipline was punished by Beauden Barrett, who kicked the world champions into an 18-9 lead with 22 minutes remaining.
However, Taulupe Faletau gave the Lions hope when he powered over in the corner on the hour mark and Conor Murray crossed for a second eight minutes later to level proceedings.
With the game in the balance, a late tackle on Kyle Sinckler by Charlie Faumuina presented Farrell with the chance to secure victory, and the Saracen slotted his fifth successful kick of the game to set up a set up a series decider in Auckland next Saturday.
The sides were level at 3-3 when Williams smashed Watson in the head as the wing ran the ball back. The TMO brought the incident to Jerome Garces' attention and the French official reduced the All Blacks to 14.
New Zealand reacted by sacrificing a flanker, Jerome Kaino replaced by centre Ngani Laumape, and that helped the Lions in the set piece as they were under pressure at the scrum.
Some uncharacteristic errors from Murray and Johnny Sexton, followed by penalty concessions, allowed Barrett to keep New Zealand's noses in front but Brodie Retallick was pinged on the stroke of half-time and Farrell kicked his third three-pointer to lead the sides deadlocked at 9-9 at the interval.
The Lions' penalty count moved into double figures after the restart as Barrett fired New Zealand into an 18-9 lead, and Warren Gatland would have been tearing his hair out when Mako Vunipola was sin-binned for clattering into Barrett at a ruck.
But a trademark Sexton wraparound got them back into the game, with quick hands from Liam Williams releasing Watson up the wing. Sexton then combined with Farrell, the latter throwing a cut-out pass to Williams and he found Faletau, who barged through Israel Dagg to score.
A Barrett penalty made it 21-14 but the Lions went level on 68 minutes when Jamie George ran a fantastic line off Sexton and Murray punished poor positioning by TJ Perenara to cross.
Farrell then held his nerve at the death as the Lions claimed their first victory over New Zealand since the second Test in 1993.
Man of the match
Sonny Bill Williams became the first All Black to be sent off since Colin Meads in 1967 when he caught Anthony Watson in the head with his shoulder.
The centre made no attempt to wrap his arms and left referee Jerome Garces with little option but to brandish the red card.
"It was a challenge that was totally unnecessary and put a lot of pressure on his team," said former All Blacks skipper Sean Fitzpatrick.
The All Blacks may have been the side reduced to 14 men but it was the Lions' indiscipline which almost cost them victory.
Once again they hit double figures, Vunipola conceding four of their 13 penalties, and the prop was sin-binned on 56 minutes.
Luckily for the Lions, Barrett didn't have his best night from the tee, the fly-half missing three kicks at goal.
Putting aside the number of penalties conceded, the Lions were ferocious in contact, and that led to a fantastic battle on the gainline.
Sean O'Brien moved into the midfield off New Zealand set pieces to counter the powerful runs of debutant Laumape and the tourists played the wet conditions well, Maro Itoje central to their rolling mauls from restarts.
The Lions failed to turn pressure into points in the opening quarter but they certainly made it count in the second half, Faletau and Murray both scoring well-worked tries.
Not bad from a Lions point of view but New Zealand will be reeling after their 46-Test unbeaten record on home soil was ended at a wet Westpac Stadium.
Barrett let the tourists off the hook with his errant place-kicking.
"We left nine points out there," said former All Black Jeff Wilson. "The reality is we could have gotten 30 points from place kicks."
When beaten by Ireland last November, New Zealand produced an incredibly physical riposte in the return fixture in Dublin. The Lions can expect similar in Eden Park next Saturday.
"I am a happy clown this week! It is great to tie the series up and we go to Auckland with everything to play for.
"Even with the red card, we were the better team, deserved to win and played some good rugby."
"While I am very proud of our team of how we hung in there with 14 men, you have got to take your hat off and say well done to the Lions.
"He (the referee) made the call so whether he got it right or wrong is irrelevant. I have always said you have got to go with what he decides.
"Don't make the issue about the tackle. The Lions deserved the win. Happy for them but we are disappointed. I am very proud of our guys."
How good is it that it's coming down to the last test brilliant for both teams so fitting for the occasion the lions bring. I'm excited 🦁🥝— Ben Youngs (@benyoungs09) July 1, 2017
What a call to stick with JS/OF combo throughout the match. What it lacks defensive hits, it makes up for it attack— Tom Shanklin (@TomShanklin) July 1, 2017