Rugby Union Expert & Columnist
Stuart Barnes' talking points: Pressure on All Blacks for Lions series decider
Last Updated: 03/08/17 2:25pm
Stuart Barnes reflects on the Lions' win in Wellington, Sonny Bill Williams' dismissal and the mounting pressure on New Zealand...
1. We have what most of the rugby world and even a huge number of partisan fans wanted; a decider between the All Blacks and Lions.
The nightmare of 2005's mismatch was banished on Saturday night as Warren Gatland's men produced a fierce, if at times flawed, display to level the series in Wellington.
Some pretty dumb lapses in discipline almost enabled New Zealand to win a game they had no right to win.
Reduced to 14 men around the 25-minute mark, the Lions really should have closed the game out earlier....if they are truly good enough to beat New Zealand when numerical advantage and awful conditions don't play - supposedly - to their advantage.
Yes, I thought it would be 3-0 throughout the season although as a caveat I always said/wrote there was hope....three nights of awful weather and I facetiously suggested the Lions could be the 3-0 winners.
They had the weather in Wellington.
2. But is this being unfair on the Lions? After all, they scored two fine tries, and after two tests they lead the try count 4-3. What odds on that being the case before the series started?
And on Saturday night New Zealand's swaggering belief in their capacity to win through tries without a guaranteed top quality kicker came back to haunt them.
Beauden Barrett missed three kicks ranging from gettable to sitters. The confident kicker from the previous week and the Samoa game went missing. If the Lions can keep the pressure on the All Blacks, it may be that this phenomenal talent will finish the series the Kiwi weak link.
While the Lions have the superior try count I wouldn't be in a rush to write off the All Black attack quite yet. This is, British and Irish fans, no time for triumphalism.
3. No arguments about the Sonny Bill sending off. I love the way players rush to the defence of their mates though.
No intent said Jerome Kaino....said in all good faith too but Anthony Watson wasn't falling and Sonny Bill clearly picked his target and went in with the shoulder.
A vestige of his rugby league days I read over and over. How long has he been playing union? Blame league for whatever you wish but not this red card.
4. The phone woke me up 12.15am, Monday morning, Kiwi time. My column on the loss of Sean O'Brien needed a complete rewrite. He had won his case against most expectations, obviously mine.
The Australian citing commissioner described the incident in which the Irishman's swinging arm made contact with Waisake Naholo's head as one deeming to 'have met the threshold for a red card'. So with heavy heart I wrote the column only to find the case thrown out.
A major boost for the Lions. O'Brien is playing at his powerful best. Fortune turning the Lions way? That would be my take on the decision.
5. The pressure is firmly on the All Blacks. A winning run of 46 home Tests stretching back to 2009 has come to an end.
Given a happy ending for the world champions, the fans and press will forgive this slip, one man down in atrocious conditions. Lose the series and the sky will fall in on New Zealand and its rugby team.
Of all the Lions sides only the 1971 vintage claimed victory in New Zealand. This team has never looked comparable with their descendants but another win and they'll be legends for life.
They are still the underdogs however. New Zealand and most of the world expect the home side to win the series.
The Lions have a free shot....
6. They also have the belief, deep down, that they can beat the All Blacks. No matter what the circumstances they have that `W' to their name. Imagine, Welshmen with an All Black scalp!
New Zealand's team are humans. They make mistakes. They can be beaten. The Lions' incredible army of supporters will reconvene from Queenstown, Fiji and Australia to bellow out their support.
7. A word for the supporters. They have been incredible. I can't remember hearing or reading anything but positive reports on their behaviour from the moment the army began to trickle into Northland for the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians clash.
They have brought money into the local economy and a great degree of credit to the people of Britain and Ireland. I am so pleased that they, as much as the players, will have their decider. They deserve it.
Eden Park is not going to sound like a Kiwi fortress on Saturday night. 'Lions, Lions, Lions' is going to roar around the home of New Zealand rugby. The supporters will inspire the team.
8. That is on the plus side. On the negative, what has happened to those usually disciplined Saracens?
Mako Vunipola lost the plot completely while Maro Itoje wasn't much better. To concede so many penalties and win was staggering.
I don't think Barrett will miss two absolute sitters again.....that would have been the series.
9. It was good to see Jamie George going the distance. His line off Johnny Sexton to set up the Conor Murray try was the Saracen hooker at his storming best.
To think this was only his second international start....it is going to be quite a battle between George and Dylan Hartley for that England No 2 jersey next season.
10. I have called two World Cup finals and two deciding Tests between the Lions and Australia but Saturday feels like the biggest of them all.
The World Cup is how we measure test teams but this is different. The Lions are a throwback - no preparation time, an absurd fixture list, the hysteria about the Welsh and Scottish contingent flown in to boost the bench and training - all this has been and gone and somehow the Lions find themselves one-all in a showdown with one of the great teams in sporting history.
Yes, this is the biggest of them all. 24 years ago New Zealand bounced back from a 20-7 defeat to put 30 points on the Lions in Auckland. After almost a quarter of a century the Lions finally have a shot at revenge...