No-one said it would be easy, but the 2017 Lions, as befits the entire tour it seems, made it much, much harder than it needed to be.
Gifted the best advantage they could have hoped for by the supremely gifted Sonny Bill Williams’ occasional tendency to do something irredeemably stupid, the Lions fell over themselves trying to make that advantage tell. Up until Taulupe Faletau’s try, it was hard to see which team had the extra man.
The Lions were so cold and tactically passive after half-time you wondered whether Warren Gatland had even gone to the dressing room. Far from seizing the day, it seemed they were letting the greatest chance they would ever have to beat the All Blacks simply evaporate in their hands.
Beauden Barrett missed a couple of kickable penalties, and the All Blacks made a number of untypical errors. But at 18-9 one team were in control, and when Mako Vunipola equalised the player count with his second brainless intervention in the space of three minutes, it seemed New Zealand had weathered the Wellington storm.
Instead the Lions scored having LOST the man advantage, through Faletau. They kept giving up silly penalties, but exposed the All Blacks’ slightly suspect bench in the last ten minutes, through Conor Murray’s sniping try and the winning penalty.
Good points for the Lions? They managed to largely shut down the two key men from the first test, Brodie Retallick and Keiran Read. Maro Itoje was monumental and the decision not to have him start last week was proved ludicrous.
The bench was excellent, Courtney Lawes must start the third test no matter how attached Gatland is to Alun Wyn Jones.
Against 15 men, will the Lions have enough back in Auckland? A big question, but at least they’ve got there with everything to play for. It’s the first time in the tour it’s felt like that.