Rumours of the Lions' future demise proven to be very premature

This was a huge game for the touring side, whose future had been strongly questioned.

Murray Kinsella reports from Westpac Stadium

ON A NIGHT when many had suggested the Lions’ future was on the line, the famous touring side answered the big question in convincing fashion.

Their performance wasn’t perfect in a 24-21 win – 13 penalties nearly killed them – but this victory over the All Blacks is historic and the occasion was utterly unforgettable.

Sean O'Brien celebrates winning James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

On the pitch, events were absorbing and taking your eye off this seesawing game for a second meant missing something important, while off the pitch we saw just how much the Lions really mean.

The atmosphere was genuinely rare, crackling from 30 minutes before kick-off and reaching ear drum-damaging decibel levels by the time Jerome Garces signalled the start of a brilliant Test match.

Seven weeks together showed in the Lions’ display, one of grit and character, while the extended time together for the travelling Irish, England, Scottish and Welsh supporters was also obvious.

From booming renditions of the already-classic ‘Oh, Maro Itoje’ to relentless versions of ‘Lions, Lions, Lions,’ the away support was deafening.


The Kiwis firmly bought into the occasion too, roaring their approval of every half break and penalty awarded the All Blacks’ way.

Auckland next weekend will be rocking and the build-up promises to be intense and fascinating, with Warren Gatland’s men having upset the odds – they were 5/1 to win here – to level the series.

The dream scenario was always that we would be heading to Eden Park with everything on the line and with the Lions having upset the Kiwis, they will believe they have momentum on their side.

Owen Farrell and Jonathan Davies celebrate winning James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

The tourists travel to Queenstown tomorrow for a few relaxing days where their training levels will slightly ease, but they won’t be getting too busy sampling the local wine and taking on the adventure sports.

Characters like captain Sam Warburton and Sean O’Brien will keep things light at the right times, but this Lions group will be focused on what they now believe is their prime opportunity to achieve what hasn’t been done in New Zealand since 1971.

The All Blacks had a major disadvantage in playing most of the game with 14 players, of course, but that shouldn’t take too much gloss off the Lions’ achievement.

At times, they did everything in their power to allow the All Blacks to pull clear – Beauden Barrett’s three misses off the tee were costly in preventing that from happening – but Gatland’s squad had the mettle in the key moments in the second half.

Perhaps as important was the fact that the Lions scored two tries to the All Blacks’ zero.

The numerical disadvantage was key in that, but both Lions tries were excellent scores. The first saw the Lions sweep wide to wide, with Johnny Sexton and Owen Farrell combining superbly from left to right, before the inside centre’s beautiful long pass allowed Taulupe Faletau to score as they went back from right to left.

The second featured another bit of excellent play from Sexton, who delayed his short pass to Jamie George, the hooker running a clever line. From the recycled ball, Conor Murray sniped and appeared to benefit from some off-the-ball work around the ruck.

CJ Stander, Ben Te'o and Jack Nowell celebrate winning Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Some of the gnashing of teeth around the Lions in recent times has been around their style of rugby, so Gatland will take pleasure in his side having been on the right end of 2-0 try-scoring scoreline.

This win is important in its own right obviously, giving this Lions squad a series lifeline, but it’s also proof that the tourists’ future is safe.

They have provided their rich history with another great chapter and even though the All Blacks will head into the series decider as favourites, Gatland’s men have given rugby an occasion that could be one of the truly great ones in this sport.

Rumours of the future demise of the Lions as a concept have been proven to be very premature.

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