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.
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