Lions likely to bat­tle again

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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.

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