Lions tour: How the Lions shocked the All Blacks in the second test
Oh, you bloody beauty! That was probably just one of the responses from the jubilant British and Irish Lions fans in the wake of their side's 24-21 win over the All Blacks in Wellington. Here's a recap of the action at the Cake Tin and what both sides will look to do ahead of the decider in Auckland on Saturday.
TOP FIVE MOMENTS
1. Sonny Bill Williams' right shoulder v Anthony Watson's head. It wasn't a fair contest. Not when you take into account that Lions wing Watson was also trying to shrug off Waisake Naholo, and had changed his angle of attack toward the imposing physique of a big bull draped in black called SBW. Had the point of impact been a couple of inches lower, Watson's head could last been seen tumbling down Lambton Quay. For Williams it was a red card. Over and out.
2. The try by Lions halfback Conor Murray with 11 minutes until the final hooter. Owen Farrell attached the extra two points, the scores were locked 21-all and the Lions had all the self-belief in the world. Game on.
3. The first try scored by Lions No 8 Taulupe Faletau reinforces why it pays to respect the Lions' ability to play running footy - and in dreadful conditions to boot. They went right, and then wide to the left. And Faletau had work to do. With 10m left he had to beat Israel Dagg, a man usually reliable in an emergency. No chance. Faletau stepped through his tackle and fresh air was the only remaining barrier.
4. More controversy. Lions loosehead prop Mako Vunipola launched an ugly clean-out of Beauden Barrett in a ruck in the third quarter. Result? Yellow card. Was it the right call from referee Jerome Garces? Yes.
5. Penalties galore. All Blacks No 10 Barrett kicked seven from 10. But missed three. Costly.
1. Williams was banned for four weeks following his red card.
2. Lions flanker Sean O'Brien was cleared for using a swinging arm to crude effect into the head of Naholo in the second half. O'Brien escaped censure by the on-field officials, but the citing commissioner got his man, deeming it a "red card offence". Naholo retired for a concussion test. Nevertheless, O'Brien is free to line up in the third test.
ANY OTHER CONTROVERSIES?
Words were swapped post-match as the two sides clapped each other out of the Cake Tin. Replacement halfback TJ Perenara appeared to be one player who took umbrage at some chirping from Lions' front rower Kyle Sinckler. Not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but it indicates the All Blacks will be keen to quickly turn-up the thermostat in the lead-up to the third test.
Then there was the Vunipola clean-out of Barrett. Some said he deserved a red card. Nah, the yellow seemed a fair call.
INJURY WARD UPDATE
Naholo made a swift recovery from being belted by O'Brien. Codie Taylor took a whack to the shoulder, but should be good to go for the third test.
MATCH RATING: 9/10
Drama, suspense and controversy. There was lots of it. If you had skin in this, in other words if you hailed from New Zealand, Britain or Ireland, this was edge of the seat stuff.
From the moment Williams got his marching orders, everything changed.
The skill execution wasn't great and that was a reflection of the wet, slippery ball and sodden turf.
Instead you had to take into account the high stakes for both teams, the need for the coaches to change strategies and how the players would control their nerves in such a turbulent contest.
TOP THREE PLAYERS FOR ALL BLACKS
1. Brodie Retallick
Spare a thought for the AB forwards, down a man when Jerome Kaino was subbed as soon as Williams was sent off, to allow Ngani Laumape to shore up the depleted midfield. Retallick kept going hard-out, was the top ball winner in the lineout and refused to wilt.
2. Kieran Read
Was the top ball-carrier with 12 runs. Kept his men calm, was able to manage a forwards division that lost a warrior in Kaino
3. Sam Cane
Had his hands full at the breakdown as the Lions aggressively flooded the contact area. Was replaced by Ardie Savea in the 64th minute, but would have continued to provide value if he had been allowed an extra 10 minutes.
TOP THREE PLAYERS FOR LIONS
1. Sean O'Brien
We know, we know. The flanker unleashed a cheap shot on Naholo and it should have resulted in a yellow (or red) card. But the Irishman is a tough brute and you have to acknowledge he is abrasive and has a real edge to his game when it counts for real - in the rucks and defence.
2. Taulupe Faletau
Made 13 tackles, scored a try and ran 21m with the ball in his mitts. The No 8 has enhanced his reputation in the eyes of many Kiwis, surely.
3. Conor Murray
We were going to give this to lock Maro Itoje. But the daft penalties he gave away lost him vital points. So try-scorer Murray, the fulcrum of everything that is so good about the Lions, gets the nod. Captain and flanker Warburton also gets our blessing. A worker, kept his side focussed when it looked like they were going to blow the golden opportunity to crucify the 14-man New Zealand side.
THREE THINGS THE ALL BLACKS MUST IMPROVE?
1. Game management. If you are down to 14 blokes for about an hour the fuel tank is going to be drained a lot quicker. Playmakers Beauden Barrett and Aaron Cruden, the latter came on in the 60th minute when a dazed Naholo retreated, need to take responsibility for this. Barrett, especially. It is a heavy burden for the No 10, but that's the job.
2. Creating line breaks. There was just the one for the All Blacks, who were kept tryless for the first time since 2014 - when they drew 12-all with the Aussies in Sydney. The Lions, bolstered by the numerical advantage for much of the game, made six.
3 Discipline. For obvious reasons. Losing a man mid-way through the first half forced so much change: Kaino to retire, the scrum to have Anton Lienert-Brown packing at blindside and one less body in the defensive line.
THREE THINGS THE LIONS MUST IMPROVE?
1. Stay calm. The string of penalties they gave away after halftime could have cost them. Gifting opponents' easy points is never terribly smart.
2. Attack, attack, attack. Why not? In fullback Liam Williams and centre Jonathan Davies they have a couple of goers. Keep them involved, along with wings Anthony Watson and Elliot Daly, and mix-up the game by tapping into the skills of Conor Murray, Johnny Sexton and Owen Farrell.
3. Trust your coach. Warren Gatland has ducked, dodged and weaved his way through some heavy flak since his arrival. Then he turns around and guides the Lions to a 24-21 win. It wasn't that long ago when some self-appointed deep thinkers of the game were saying the Lions wouldn't beat a Super Rugby side, let alone a test.
Jerome Garces made the right call in sending off Williams. No complaints about the yellow card to Vunipola, either. Garces missed some things - he could have punished O'Brien for whacking Naholo, for example - but this was some game and he didn't bottle it.
All Blacks prop Charlie Faumuina gave away the crucial penalty which empowered Farrell to kick the winning points. Again, right call by Garces. Harsh, but the law is the law.
Metres: Israel Dagg 50, Waisake Naholo 32, Beauden Barrett 25, Ngani Laumape 23.
Tackles: Sam Whitelock 7, Sam Cane 6, Owen Franks 5, Kieran Read 5.
Penalties conceded: 8
Missed tackles: 12
Kicks from hand: 34
Metres: Anthony Watson 34, Jonathan Davies 32, Sean O'Brien 28, Taulupe Faletau 21.
Tackles: Maro Itoje 14, Taulupe Faletau 13, Sean O'Brien 12, Sam Warburton 10.
Penalties conceded: 13
Missed tackles: 10
Kicks from hand: 25