LOYAL Cap­tains show true mean­ing of lead­er­ship

Lead­ing in the Amer­ica's Cup, Peter Burl­ing com­mits to NZ Back af­ter two months, Kieran Read pun­ishes Lions in bruis­ing battle

Sunday Star-Times - - FRONT PAGE -

There was so much to en­joy on a night when the game was the win­ner.

OPINION: Won­drous.

Don’t tell me this is the fi­nal Lions tour and don’t dare tell any­one in New Zealand. This beau­ti­ful, rugby mad na­tion has been crav­ing a night of test footy like this. The Ki­wis have been thirsty for some op­po­si­tion to re­mind them what in­ter­na­tional rugby is re­ally about and they fi­nally got some. What a game.

The Lions were huge in a 30-15 first test loss at Eden Park. They nearly scored from the first move of the match. They made some mas­sive spine-tin­gling hits in mid­field where Conor Mur­ray and Ben Te’o were colos­sal. And they ran in a try from the end of the earth, a score that no one in New Zealand said they were ca­pa­ble of, a daz­zling try that re­minded you of Jean-Luc Sadourny’s in 1994, the last time the All Blacks lost in this ground.

The All Blacks had to show how good they were just to sur­vive, but they did far more than that. Tip your bean­ies to the coaches. Inside balls, first up run­ners, ball to ground quickly and keep recycling, again and again and again. Stress the Lions rush.

If you give them time to re­or­gan­ise then they can be lethal. But the All Blacks sac­ri­ficed width and they sac­ri­ficed me­tres for tons of super swift ball. The Lions had to keep re-set­ting their line at a speed that hasn’t been re­quired of them all tour and they be­gan to tire and to fray.

There was so much to love about this game. There is a rea­son why New Zealand kids prac­tise their skills again and again un­til their hands are raw. It’s for nights like th­ese when you need to sur­pass the nerves of a na­tion. The hands of some of th­ese All Blacks should be sculpted by some dude like Ro­torua Rodin.

Who could not love the skill of Codie Tay­lor on the out­side. There were some who feared that Dane Coles might be missed. Not a chance. The depth in New Zealand is ex­tra­or­di­nary. Is­rael Dagg, who oth­er­wise had a mag­nif­i­cent night, threw an iffy pass at the toes, but Tay­lor picked it up like a beach ball and plunged over.

And all praise to Aaron Smith. The nugget is back, gleam­ing and not as mouthy as usual. The qual­ity of his box kick­ing nearly matched Mur­ray’s and that is say­ing some­thing. But it was his tap tackle on Mur­ray, when it looked like the Lions half­back had to score, that may just be the moment that re­deems Smith’s ca­reer.

At 10-0 most of the peo­ple in the sta­dium must have won­dered if the Lions had missed their moment when Mur­ray stum­bled short of the line af­ter be­ing tap tack­led. No chance. Not yet. The re­vival started with Liam Wil­liams at full back.

Yes, it re­called the try from the end of the earth. But as Wil­liams sidestepped across his 22, the mel­liflu­ous voice of Cliff Mor­gan came flood­ing back down the years. One side­step, two. It was Phil Ben­nett for the ‘73 Bar­bar­ians all over again, off his right foot, leav­ing black jer­seys clutch­ing at empty hope. This was a try of great skill, but also rugby in­tel­li­gence of the sort that we don’t al­ways get from northern hemi­sphere play­ers. Wil­liams waited for his sup­port, as too few do when they see those tempt­ing open spa­ces. And what heads up play from Jonathan Davies and Daly who pro­vided the links. And up roared Sean O’Brien, not quite ar­riv­ing late like Gareth Ed­wards, but as a flanker he has ev­ery right to say so.

There was so much to en­joy. Kieran Read cut Owen Far­rell in half. Brodie Re­tal­lick romped up the mid­dle like the an­gry gi­ant. An­thony Wat­son was su­perb in the air and stepped the All Blacks de­fence at the start of the sec­ond half like a river dancer. And Rieko Ioane, what a night for the 20-yearold.

And maybe you didn’t no­tice Beau­den Bar­rett as much as usual. Maybe there were not the sear­ing breaks that de­fine a match. But this was the com­plete per­for­mance from a man who played both 10 and 15. He car­ried to the line with courage into chan­nels of car­nage. His high ball catch­ing was sublime. He kicked off his left foot. His goal­kick­ing was im­mac­u­late. And so on a night of such splen­dour, maybe Bar­rett was the un­sung hero. How strange and won­der­ful is that.

REUTERS

Bri­tish and Lions wing El­liott Daly makes a break past his op­po­site Is­rael Dagg at Eden Park last night.

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