As the dust settles on another Lions series, Chris Bailey assesses the performances of Warren Gatland’s 41-man squad in New Zealand.
What do you make of our ratings?
Mako Vunipola – 6: No prop gets through more work in the loose than him, but marked down for second Test horrorshow
Jack McGrath – 6: That he could not displace a shaky Vunipola tells you that the Irishman was not at his best.
Joe Marler – 5: A distant third in the pecking order at loosehead. Liable to lose his head
Dan Cole – 6: Performed his job admirably, limited but one of the biggest grafters on tour
Tadhg Furlong – 7: Not as effective around the park as Vunipola, but kept his side of the scrum solid enough
Kyle Sinckler – 8: Many were questioning why the England rookie was called up. Not anymore. Destructive finisher
Rory Best – 7: Powers are waning at age of 34 but an impeccable mid-week leader
Ken Owens – 6: Still looks a little lightweight at Test level. Lucky not to cost Lions right at the end.
Jamie George – 8: If he can start for the Lions, he can start for England. Still room to improve.
Maro Itoje – 8: Was a little overexcited in the second Test, a behemoth in the third. The sky may not be the limit.
Alun Wyn Jones – 7: A mid-tour scapegoat who can now hold his head high. Nine Lions Tests, some going.
Courtney Lawes – 8: Fully over his mid-career slump. Left bruises all over All blacks with his carries.
George Kruis – 6: Unlucky to be second-row fall guy after the first Test. Didn’t take his chance though.
Iain Henderson – 7: Possibly never been a stronger set of Lions locks, the unfortunate victim.
Peter O’Mahony – 6: Led by example all the way up until the first Test, in which he was sadly dominated
Sean O’Brien – 9: The Tullow Tank, after four years of nearly constant injury, delivered his best form
Sam Warburton – 8: Even tour place had been in question, but the skipper came in for second Test and slowed All Blacks ball right down
Justin Tipuric – 6 Solid performer and did not miss a tackle, but Test place blocked by O’Brien and Warburton
James Haskell – 5 Abrasive as always but too often on wrong side of the line in this tour
CJ Stander – 6 Usually a bulldozer in an Ireland shirt, at best a mini-van for the Lions
Ross Moriarty – 5 Highly promising start to tour cruelly ended by a back injury early on
Taulupe Faletau – 8: One of the big winners, stopped most talking about the injured Billy Vunipola
Rhys Webb – 7: Best compliment you can pay to him is that no one would have been worried if he started Tests
Conor Murray – 8 Expert box kicker and deadly sniper, his duels with fellow No9 Aaron Smith were a highlight
Greig Laidlaw – 5 Late call-up and looked one or two classes apart from master scrum-halves Webb and Murray
Dan Biggar – 8: Could do nothing more to prove himself in tour games, but Sexton and Farrell were immovable
Jonathan Sexton – 8: Gatland put his faith in the Irishman when most others had lost theirs. Brought edge to attack.
Owen Farrell – 7: Did not see vintage Farrell yet generally linked with Sexton well and grew into his kicking boots
Ben T’eo – 7: Lung-busting breaks caught the eye but ultimately his ball skills were not up to scratch at inside centre
Jonathan Davies – 9: Named Lions’ player of the tour and deservedly so. Gave every ounce of energy for the cause
Jonathan Joseph – 6: Had no chance up against the in-form Davies at No13 and was not a standout regardless
Robbie Henshaw – 5: Touted to make Test impact before tour, but disappointing summer ended in injury
Jared Payne – 5: Weighed down by injuries and is currently under observation for spate of migraines
Elliot Daly – 8: Is wing his position? Maybe not – but he makes things happen. Humongous boot a real boon for the Lions
Tommy Seymour – 6: Started slowly and that counted against him, but finished Lions’ top try-scorer
Anthony Watson – 8: A shame that play was often narrow and Lions did not make more use of his dancing feet
George North – 5: Looked almost lethargic at times and his best could already be behind him at age of 25
Jack Nowell – 7: Very shaky in tour opener v Blues, but grew in stature and gained Test bench spot
Liam Williams – 7: Sparked one of Test rugby’s great tries in the first All Blacks clash, unsure under high ball
Leigh Halfpenny – 6: Never the most electric of backs, but has regressed since 2013. Still one of world’s best kickers.
Stuart Hogg – 5: Conor Murray’s elbow will haunt him for years to come. Scarcely been an unluckier injury.
British and Irish Lions skipper Sam Warburton was left speechless after a 15-15 draw with New Zealand in Auckland meant the Test series was tied.
The tourists headed into the Eden Park clash knowing they could become the first Lions side to win a Test series in New Zealand since 1971.
But, having trailed 12-6 at half-time, the Lions were reliant on a 78th-minute penalty from Owen Farrell to secure a 1-1 draw across the three matches.
Warburton told Sky Sports: “It is a difficult one, it has got to be a first. It is difficult as players, if you go through the pressure and the emotion of the week, it is all geared towards winning.
“But, I guess, it is better than losing. We didn’t lose the series. To be honest, I am a bit speechless, I don’t know what to make of that. I was ready to go into extra-time! My legs weren’t, they are cramping up everywhere.
“To come to the double world champs, what they have done over the last six to eight years was incredible, so to come here and not get beaten, we can take some credit for that.
“We can take some positives from a draw but, as players, we are gutted not to take that win.”
New Zealand captain Kieran Read, playing his 100th Test, echoed Warburton’s thoughts following the draw.
“I feel pretty hollow, to be honest,” Read said.
“When you walk away with a draw, it doesn’t really mean much. I will probably look at it in the future with a bit more pride.”
Maro Itoje, one of the Lions’ stars of the tour, was a little disappointed not to condemn the All Blacks to back-to-back home defeats for the first time since 1998.
“We are a little bit unsatisfied, we came here to win but we didn’t quite do that,” he said.
“I don’t think we played that perfect game. But New Zealand are a top team. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t what we wanted. Life goes on.”
Despite the result, Itoje was proud of his efforts.
“I am incredibly honoured and proud to be part of this team,” he added.
“One of the best six or seven weeks of my life. To wear this red jersey is a dream come true for me. I can’t read the future but I am definitely going to try (to play for Lions again).”
Thirteen months ago Jordie Barrett found himself on a wet Tuesday afternoon in East Manchester facing up to a rampant Irish pack.
The then 19-year-old was a part of an Under-20 team that fell to a surprise 33-24 loss to Ireland, becoming the first New Zealand age group team in history to lose to an Irish team.
The kid from New Plymouth had a mixed day, scoring the first try but landing just two kicks at goals from five attempts.
One year and 28 days later the now 20-year-old faces a very different assignment – starting at full- back for the All Blacks in the third and deciding Test of a dramatic Lions series.
It’s a big call by New Zealand coach Steve Hansen.
It’s the biggest match in rugby union since the 2015 Rugby World Cup final and the biggest in New Zealand since the 2011 RWC final. And that’s not my description.
All Black players, not known for their over-statements, have openly been talking this week about this game being as big as a RWC decider. A fair bit of pressure then …
And in to that high-pressure environment, with everything on the line, the coach throws the youngest of four Barrett brothers.
It’s not to say Jordie, whose pet hate is being called Jordan, may not rise to the challenge – perform out of his skin – and the All Blacks record yet another famous victory. But the odds are against such a scenario playing out.
You have to ask the question, is it fair of Hansen, a usually astute man manager, to put such extraordinary pressure on a young man playing just his second match for the All Blacks and making his run on Test debut?
Jordie only made his provincial debut for Canterbury in August last year, before that he was playing club rugby as he weighed up choosing between a career in rugby or cricket, a sport where he also excelled as a fast bowler.
He made his Super Rugby debut just a few months ago, so Hansen is expecting a lot of a player in his second year of professional rugby, who is also playing out of position.
On the Hurricanes website Barrett is listed at the position he played for the NZ Under 20 team last year – inside centre. In the Mitre 10 Cup final last year he played at outside centre. At the start of the season he was only the second choice Hurricanes full-back behind Nehe Milner-Skudder, who has not been selected.
But now he must fill arguably the most important position in arguably the most important Test in years.
And be sure of one thing – the Lions will keep Barrett busy. Every chance he gets Conor Murray will be booting the ball high into Auckland night sky and the Lions back three sprinting through to put the pressure on.
We have already seen in this series just how important box-kicks have been as an attacking weapon and the Lions will like their chances of getting some great opportunities from the youngest of the Barrett boys.
Physically Jordie is up for it. At 1.96m and 96kgs he is almost 10 cms taller and five kgs heavier than his more famous brother, Beauden.
But in these big matches it’s all about experience and that is something Jordie does not have.
In fact the selection smacks of desperation and shows a surprising lack of depth in the All Blacks ranks. After Ben Smith was injured, Hansen gave the No15 jersey to Israel Dagg who after a less than impressive second Test has been shuffled to the wing.
“He’s very good in the air and he’s also a good defender,” Hansen assures of Barrett. “We have worked hard on his positioning and he is a quality player.”
As for Jordie himself he is trying to appear calm. “Whatever comes my way, comes my way,” he said enigmatically. “It is just about controlling it.”
But how much of this high pressure Test will he be able to control? The Lions’ own 20-year-old boy wonder Maro Itoje found himself over-awed in the second Test last Saturday, and he has two Six Nations campaigns and a European Cup victory already under his belt.
If Barrett lives up to Hansen’s faith, a new All Blacks legend is born. But if he doesn’t, he may find himself on the sidelines very early and with an ignominious loss blemishing a promising young career.