Mark Reason: All Blacks and Lions deliver test for the ages
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 re-organise 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-year-old.
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.
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