Lions likely to battle again
Now we have a contest. While the All Blacks’ loss to the Lions in the second test in Wellington was disappointing, to say the least, the stage is now set for an epic battle at the third test in Auckland, and makes it more likely that the fournation army will invade our shores again in the future.
Before the All Blacks went down 21-24 on Saturday night, pundits had written about the ‘‘vultures [which] circle the conceptual carcass of the British and Irish Lions’’. New Zealand tours were seen to be too far, too hard and – most critically – too predictable in their outcome. No Lions team has won a test series here in the past 46 years.
During this tour, many words have been penned about the wisdom, and indeed the point, of putting together Lions teams with little preparation time to face the best Super Rugby sides, New Zealand Maori and the world champion All Blacks on their own turf.
As recently as Friday, The Times’ rugby writer Stephen Jones said this tour would be the Lions’ last to New Zealand. ‘‘The Lions have been crushed,’’ Jones said in a radio interview.
But now the touring team has risen above that and beyond the other disadvantages of a crowded 10-match touring schedule at the end of a long plane journey and their punishing northern hemisphere playing season.
The fact that the All Blacks played 55 minutes of Saturday’s test with 14 men is irrelevant. Sonny Bill Williams’ red card was just one feature of a game which provided plenty of talking points and reinvigorated the tour for the besotted fans on both sides.
Even a bit of post-match argybargy between the players, while not condoned, has added a frisson to the tour that was lacking in the mind games and trash talk between coaches Warren Gatland and Steve Hansen.
Williams’ sending off was unfortunate, but justifiable.
The counter-factual argument that the All Blacks would have won had they remained at full strength is pointless now, and certainly does not alter the fact that the Lions are now just one hard-fought game away from potentially their first test series win in New Zealand since 1971.
The excitement in sport comes from its uncertainty and New Zealand has been looking almost too dominant in recent years. Before Saturday, the All Blacks had not lost a test at home since 2009. But any complacency we felt is gone now.
Lions fans, who have invested considerable amounts of time and money to come here, will feel they have received a dividend from their victory on Saturday night. If the Lions win at Eden Park, they will feel they have hit the jackpot.