By Neil Leverett
- New Zealand and Lions drew final test 15-15 in Auckland on Saturday
- Series drawn 1-1 as six-week tour concludes
AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND – After an epic test series with the All Blacks was tied 1-1, who stood out from the Brit pack at Eden Park?
For a tour that comes around once every 12 years, one cannot help but feel a drawn test series between the British and Irish Lions and New Zealand – albeit a thrilling one – has more than taste of the anti-climactic about it.
In a game that however unbiased the most vociferous a Lions’ fan could be, the All Blacks were guilty of wasting territory, possession and chances that could have put the contest to bed even before the half-time hooter had sounded in Auckland, sealing the series win.
A draw will therefore feel sweeter for the Lions therefore, especially Warren Gatland, who had now not only recorded a series whitewash versus Australia four years ago, but now an unbeaten tour of the other rugby-mad antipodean nation.
So, of the Brits involved, who stood out for the Lions this past weekend?
With the Lions set up very much for the break-away, Elliot Daly’s pace was set to be a vital cog in the tourists’ machine. Aside from a monster kick from the half-way line however, the Wasps full-back was starved of the ball on the flanks, making numerous handling errors on the night.
Owen Farrell was again instrumental with the boot, kicking 12 of the Lions’ 15 points. In a cauldron atmosphere in Auckland, the fly-half held his nerve kicking for the posts, and his longest effort was the penalty that tied both the match and as a result the series.
The Welshman’s pace and guile frequently troubled New Zealand, but rarely was he afforded any real space to go on a trademark arcing, weaving dash through the middle. Liam Williams handled well and made some clutch takes at box-kicking and the restart.
Gatland’s bulldozing prop Mako Vunipola has not had the best of tours and was once again outmuscled for large parts at the breakdown and gave away soft penalties again.
Maro Itoje *
The England flanker was the star attraction in the Lions’ pack. During the great swathes of possession the hosts enjoyed, the Saracens man mopped up everything that came his way as the All Blacks counter-attack surged forward. On the rare occasions Gatland’s men broke forward, Maro Itoje was the catalyst.
Much like Daly on the opposite flank, Anthony Watson’s attacking runs were snuffed out by the All Blacks centres of Sam Whitelock, Sam Cane and Brodie Retallick. The Bath winger was, however, involved in the build up to Lions’ early territory where they should have scored.
The flanker made some bold plays at the gain-line, but Sam Warburton’s biggest contribution in the 80 minutes, was in the mental battle with opposite skipper Kieran Reed, to force referee Jerome Garces to overturn a late Kiwi penalty.
England’s line-out bull Jamie George had his greatest impact of the three tests at Eden Park, but still conceded play too easily and was frequently unable to assert a similar dominance as he does for Eddie Jones for the Red Rose.
International Rugby fixture for the Home Nations continues in November.
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