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Dublin: 8 °C Wednesday 22 January, 2020

Lions tie up Test series to ensure thrilling decider in Auckland

Owen Farrell held his nerve with a late penalty to draw the series back to 1-1.

All Blacks 21

Lions 24

Murray Kinsella reports from Westpac Stadium

THIS ONE WAS always going to be decided by a penalty.

So it proved as Charlie Faumuina tackled Kyle Sinckler as the Lions’ replacement tighthead jumped to gather a pass.

From in front of the posts in the 77th minute, Owen Farrell steeled himself and hammered over the three points that ensure we will have a series decider in Auckland next weekend.

Conor Murray scores their second try Source: James Crombie/INPHO

For long parts of this game, it looked as though the Lions would miss the ultimate opportunity handed to them by a first-half red card.

Sonny Bill Williams was rightly sent off in the 25th minute for a dangerous shoulder to the head of Anthony Watson in the tackle, incredibly the All Blacks’ first red card in a Test match since 1967.

In filthy weather conditions at a wet Westpac Stadium, the Lions eventually made their numerical advantage tell as the contest wore on, though they did their very best to miss the opportunity by conceding penalty after penalty.

Mako Vunipola was sent to the sin bin in the second half, but the Lions showed grit to eke their way to victory and hand the All Blacks their first home defeat since 2009.

With a raucous crowd of 38,931 in Wellington featuring vast swathes of Lions fans, the atmosphere was crackling throughout and though the error count was very high, it was an utterly absorbing Test match that saw the momentum swing both ways wildly.

Beauden Barrett’s missed nine points off the tee were costly, although he did score all of the All Blacks’ 21 points with penalties.

Surprisingly, it was the Lions’ try-scoring ability that decided the game and made up for their 13 penalty concessions, as Taulupe Faletau and scrum-half Conor Murray crossed for second-half five-pointers.

So it is that we head back to Eden Park next Saturday for what promises to be the ultimate Lions clash.

Owen Farrell kicks a penalty Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

With the rain pelting down in Wellington, the Lions enjoyed a stronger start and a 10-minute spell of pressure in the All Blacks’ territory, though Maro Itoje knocked-on after strong carries from Sean O’Brien and Tadhg Furlong put them in a strong position.

Johnny Sexton and Farrell showed signs of an intuitive understanding in phase play too, but ultimately that early pressure yielded no return on the scoreboard.

The All Blacks’ attacks then provided instant shots at goal, first when O’Brien was off his feet at the breakdown – Barrett hitting the left post – and then after a scrum penalty against Mako Vunipola – Barrett on target to give the hosts a 3-0 lead on the quarter mark.

Brodie Retallick was then pinged for blocking as Aaron Smith was box kicking and Farrell was able to impressively hammer over three points for the Lions from around 48 metres out.

Next came the moment that instantly appeared to be game-defining, as Williams was deservedly red carded for hammering his right shoulder into Watson’s head with brutal force, sending the Lions wing off for a HIA that he did at least return from.

Though assistant referee Jaco Peyper and TMO George Ayoub didn’t seem to be convinced, referee Jerome Garces was firm and correct in sending the inside centre off.

Sonny Bill Williams tackles Anthony Watson, leading to a red card Source: Photosport/Andrew Cornaga/INPHO

Advantage to the Lions, but they immediately began to produce big errors – Jamie George throwing crooked into the lineout, Sexton kicking the ball dead and then Conor Murray failing to roll away in the tackle, allowing Barrett to give the All Blacks the lead.

Again, the Lions bounced back rapidly as a superb Sexton restart allowed Itoje to regain possession and when Whitelock didn’t roll away, Farrell levelled the game at 6-6.

But the errors continued from the tourists, with Conor Murray box kicking into touch on the full and then Vunipola going off his feet competing for a breakdown turnover, Barrett on target for the third time.

The Lions did managed to equalise just before half time, however, as they began to get some dominance at scrum time where they had a numerical advantage – the All Blacks having taken off flanker Jerome Kaino after the red card and sent on centre Ngani Laumape.

It was Retallick’s hands in the ruck that gave Farrell his third opportunity off the tee, however, and the Englishman sent us into the break at 9-9.

Sam Warburton with Brodie Retallick Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Itoje crept offside early in the second half to give Barrett another chance to pop the All Blacks in front, but the Hurricanes playmaker duly missed from almost directly in front of the posts.

The let-off didn’t result in the Lions sharpening their discipline, though, as Murray high tackled Anton Lienert-Brown and this time Barrett did his job from a slightly more difficult position. 12-9 All Blacks.

Barrett missed another shot at goal – his third failing off the tee – when Itoje gave up another penalty as the All Blacks suddenly sparked into life on a kick return attack, sweeping upfield through Dagg.

And yet the Lions continued to give up brainless penalties, with Barrett’s next shot coming when the out-half was tackled late by Vunipola just after he had launched a kick. Barrett regathered his composure and sent the All Blacks into a 15-9 lead.

That Lions’ apparent mission to get a man sent to the bin was finally achieved in the 56th minute as the disastrous Vunipola went off his feet and dangerously cleared out the prone Barrett.

Indeed, he was lucky not to see red as it appeared his shoulder made contact with Barrett’s head – the same offence that had seen Williams sent marching in the first half.

Mako Vunipola is shown a yellow card by Jerome Garces Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Incredibly, the Lions continued to concede penalties as Jonathan Davies was caught offside on lineout defence and Barrett brought the All Blacks’ lead to 18-9.

The All Blacks suffered further disruption to their backline, however, as Waisake Naholo departed for a HIA, meaning the entry of Aaron Cruden and a shift to fullback for Barrett.

Immediately the Lions took advantage as they used the famous Sexton loop to free Anthony Watson down the right, before sweeping back wide left through a brilliant Farrell pass, allowing Taulupe Faletau to finish superbly in the left corner.

After a brilliant moment of skill with his pass, Farrell’s conversion effort was well off target and the All Blacks retained a four-point lead.

Back in the game, the Lions once again returned to giving up penalties as Liam Williams went offside after a huge carry from the direct and dynamic Laumape. Barrett couldn’t miss and the Kiwis led 21-14.

The seven-point cushion lasted only a minute, as Sexton’s cleverly-timed pass send hooker George through the All Blacks defence on a brilliant line and then Murray scooped the ball up to snipe to the right of the close-range scrum and dot down.

Conor Murray scores their second try Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Tasked with converting from the right-hand side, Farrell held his nerve and the Lions drew level.

A blocking penalty against Cruden – only moments after the All Blacks had appealed for the same by Farrell in front of the ruck when Murray scored his try – provided the Lions with their next attacking opportunity but O’Brien was pinged for obstruction in a promising position.

Gatland’s men fought back downfield again though, and when Faumuina gave them their final chance, Farrell nailed it.

Bring on next weekend.

All Blacks scorers:

Penalties: Beauden Barrett [7 from 10]

Lions scorers:

Tries: Taulupe Faletau, Conor Murray

Conversions: Owen Farrell [1 from 2]

Penalties: Owen Farrell [4 from 4]

ALL BLACKS: Israel Dagg; Waisake Naholo (HIA – Aaron Cruden ’59), Anton Lienert-Brown, Sonny Bill Williams, Rieko Ioane; Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith (TJ Perenara ’66); Joe Moody (Wyatt Crockett ’52), Codie Taylor (Nathan Harris ’80), Owen Franks (Charlie Faumuina ’52); Brodie Retallick, Samuel Whitelock (Scott Barrett ’73); Jerome Kaino (Ngani Laumape ’26), Sam Cane (Ardie Savea ’64), Kieran Read (captain).

LIONS: Liam Williams; Anthony Watson (Jack Nowell ’25 to ’31), Jonathan Davies, Owen Farrell, Elliot Daly; Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray; Mako Vunipola (Jack McGrath ’66), Jamie George, Tadhg Furlong (Kyle Sinckler ’61); Maro Itoje, Alun Wyn Jones (Courtney Lawes ’58); Sam Warburton (captain), Sean O’Brien (Jack McGrath ’64 to ’66), Taulupe Faletau.

Replacements not used: Ken Owens, CJ Stander, Rhys Webb, Ben Te’o.

Referee: Jerome Garces [FFR].

Attendance: 38,931.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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