The British & Irish Lions beat 14-man New Zealand in Wellington, evening the series at one apiece.
Who will secure the deciding Test at Eden Park?
Let us know your thoughts as our two writers debate.
CHRIS BAILEY SAYS ‘YES’
After an hour’s play in Wellington on Saturday only a clown – perhaps a mocked-up Warren Gatland – would have told you that a Lions series win remained a possibility.
But following that impossibly grim third quarter, the tourists flipped the game on its head.
A miserable Mako Vunipola performance had been topped off with a sin bin but, with the playing field levelled for the first time since Sonny Bill Williams’ red card, instead it was the Lions who found another gear.
Gatland’s best-laid plans materialised in front of his eyes. Johnny Sexton and Owen Farrell, the controversial combination at 10-12 with the unfortunate Ben Te’o waylaid, showed the value of two world-class playmakers in sync.
The pair used their dummy runners and opened up green grass on the left before Taulupe Faletau surged over and wrested all the momentum back for the Lions.
Eight minutes later Sexton again put the All Blacks under his spell as he found an on-rushing Jamie George, who set up the Conor Murray snipe.
It was ironic that in a week in which Gatland admitted he had bowed to pressure by not featuring the ‘geography six’ midweek, a daring selection decision ultimately won the day.
Te’o’s absence at inside centre had also been pegged as a defensive worry but Farrell took his lumps in the channel and the magnificent Sean O’Brien had been tasked to lend both him and Sexton extra support. Another tick in the box for Gatland’s coaching.
The Lions also made a mess at the breakdown, with Sam Warburton slowing down Aaron Smith at the base even when the pressure mounted.
And though they conceded an embarrassing seven penalties in that 20-minute horror-show after half-time, just nine points were conceded in that time.
If they don’t get that penalty count down against a full complement of All Blacks none of the above will matter. But they have drawn up the right blueprint and boy, do they have the belief.
ALEX BROUN SAYS ‘NO’
The All Blacks were not at their best in Wellington. Even before the match was turned on its head with the sending off of Sonny Bill Williams, New Zealand seemed rattled by the physicality of the Lions. The look of confusion on their faces told a story. Conditions were also not conducive for the All Blacks’ high-tempo ball-in-hand style.
You could argue forever about what would have happened if SBW had stayed on the field but my feeling is the Lions desperation and intensity may still have got them home even if the All Blacks were at their full compliment.
Injuries and suspensions have been bitterly cruel to the All Blacks in this series. Already missing Dane Coles before the series started they have now lost Ben Smith, Ryan Crotty, SBW and probably Waisake Naholo from their first choice XV.
All this should add up to a Lions win in Auckland this Saturday, right? Wrong.
The All Blacks have paid the Lions the ultimate compliment in the first two Tests, coming up with a game plan to counteract what they saw as the Lions strength – physicality and set-piece. Usually the All Blacks just go out and play their own game, never mind who the opposition are.
But in this series they have played high-possession rugby (61 per cent in both Tests), with low-risk ball carrying and focus on ball retention. The plan worked perfectly in Auckland and in Wellington they were 100 per cent at ruck time.
It’s all been very unlike the ABs. Usually they are happy to let the opposition have the ball knowing as soon as they over commit or make an error they will swoop and race away for a long range counter-attacking score. Or even if the opponent scores three tries, New Zealand will score
The great thing about the Lions evening the series is the All Blacks must now jettison that low-risk style and go for broke. They will try to run the Lions off the park with their pace and skill. They will turn it on and when they do, at their fortess Eden Park, no one on Earth can get anywhere near them.
Conor Murray has no doubt that world champions New Zealand will be “hurting” heading into next Saturday’s Test series decider against the British and Irish Lions.
Scrum-half Murray scored the Lions’ second try as they claimed a dramatic 24-21 victory at Westpac Stadium, edging home after All Blacks centre Sonny Bill Williams was sent off in the first half.
Murray also starred when Ireland beat the All Blacks in November last year, before New Zealand responded by gaining a revenge victory at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium two weeks later.
And the Munster number nine knows the scene is set for a high-octane series conclusion at Eden Park, where the hosts have not lost since 1994.
“They are going to be hurting, aren’t they?” Murray said.
“They will have a response, they will be hurting and they are at home in Eden Park. It’s going to be a massive challenge.
“We will enjoy tonight and appreciate what we’ve done, but everyone is looking forward to beginning work and getting as well prepared for next week in trying to take an opportunity.
“It’s a great place to be in. It will make the last week of the tour a little easier. It could have been a long week next week.
“Not many people get to be in this position. We are going to do our best to take it.”
Williams’ 25th-minute exit – he became the first All Blacks player to be sent off in a Test match in New Zealand and first anywhere for 50 years – gave the Lions a one-man advantage they at times struggled to exploit.
Lions players were visibly unhappy with Williams’ shoulder charge on wing Anthony Watson, and Murray added: “You are on the pitch, you see it and it looked illegal. You see one of your players get hurt and you want the ref to have a look at it.
“I wasn’t trying to get anyone sent off or anything. It’s just one of those things that happen on the pitch.”
The Lions squad now head to Queenstown in New Zealand’s Southern Alps for pre-planned rest and recovery until arriving in Auckland on Wednesday, from where final third Test preparations will be made.
And Murray said: “Mentally, we are going to be thinking about this game all week, but the next few days are about rest and recovery. It’s nice to think it will be a bit quieter down in Queenstown, to get away from the bubble of it and then rev up and go for it.
“I think we stuck together and have shown a lot of character to stay in the fight.
“A lot of stuff didn’t go our way today, particularly discipline. Silly penalties made it hard for us chasing the game a bit too much, but I thought we attacked them and you need to do that against the All Blacks and take your chances.
“I just thought we showed a lot of character, dug in and stayed in the fight and came out the right end.
“I gave away one or two penalties – a high tackle and not rolling away – silly things that we can control. We will look at that this week and make sure they are in check.
“But to beat the All Blacks, having been in a difficult position for most of the game, just showed how much we cared and how much we were willing to work for each other. We are going to need it again next week and be a lot more clinical.”
All Blacks centre Sonny Bill Williams was Sunday suspended for four weeks for a dangerous tackle in the second Test against the British and Irish Lions, an AFP reporter at the judicial hearing in Wellington said.
Williams was sent from the field 25 minutes into the Test after a shoulder charge to the head of Lions wing Anthony Watson.
The punishment rules Williams out of the deciding Test next weekend after the Lions levelled the series with a 24-21 victory in Wellington.
Williams, who did not contest the charge, appeared before an all-Australian judicial panel in a near three-hour hearing on Sunday evening at the New Zealand Rugby offices.
Lions flanker Sean O’Brien was also to appear before the panel after being cited for a swinging arm hit on All Blacks wing Waisake Naholo.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen confirmed before the hearing that Williams would plead guilty.
“There’s a (judicial) process, we trust the process. Sonny’s paid a big price. The team’s paid a big price for him making a mistake,” Hansen said.
“He’s disappointed. Not for himself, he accepts he’s made a mistake, but he’s disappointed because he’s let the team down.”
The All Blacks have already called Otago Highlanders centre Malakai Fekitoa into the squad as Williams’ replacement with senior midfielder Ryan Crotty already sidelined by a hamstring injury sustained in the first Test.
Although the All Blacks were forced to play with 14 men for 55 minutes after Williams was sent from the field, the Lions did not hit the lead until three minutes from full-time when Owen Farrell landed the match-winning penalty.
Williams is the third All Black to receive a red card following Cyril Brownlie in 1925 and Colin Meads in 1967.