Here’s how the New Zealand media reacted to the Lions 15-15 draw against the All Blacks.
LIONS PLAYER RATINGS V NEW ZEALAND
Lions’ supporters, “the best fans I’ve ever served in 15 years for Air New Zealand,” said one cabin crew member this week, were, quite rightly, wildly excited about the game. And they got a terrific test match, which did descend into French farce in the last five minutes, when you felt referee Romain Poite was out of his depth and at a level beyond his abilities. At the end of the game the poor guy wasn’t even sure if the game was over.
Nobody could question the heart in this Lions side, which reached a point where there were fair comparisons to be made to the triumphant 1971 Lions, who, like the 2017 model, had a potent forward pack, and, in Barry John, a lethal goal-kicker. In ’71, when they scored less tries than the All Blacks, but won the series, they didn’t need much else.
No doubt there will be some world-class whining from the north about the scrum penalty that put the All Blacks in the lead with 13 minutes to go, but nobody should take too much notice of it.
A good reason for the increasingly shrill media coverage in Britain is that the Lions have, for a few weeks, moved rugby from being a niche code on the inside pages of the sports sections there, to headlines on the back page.
British readers who have had only a passing interest in the game suddenly want to know about their new favourite team, and media jingoism hits new heights. The problem is, when you’ve promised people who barely understand the game a series victory, explaining away not quite making the mountain top isn’t easy.
The standard of refereeing spoilt the All Blacks-Lions series.
We expect professional players to operate at the highest level, and referees are no different.
An example was the offside of the Lions’ reserve hooker Ken Owens towards the end of the final test. A penalty was downgraded to a scrum.
Owens knew he was offside, and his teammates knew he was offside. Not even in the under-11s does a referee change his mind like that.
You can blame Romain Poite to a certain extent, but he’s got two officials on the sideline whose titles are “assistant referees”. They should be helping more.
I accept we have to have neutral referees, but tonight was not a great advertisement.
So brilliant and so brutal.
Both teams peered into the void as the ferocity of the final test match between the All Blacks and the Lions shook the ground and our hearts. And yet still there were moments of skill to dazzle this dark corner of New Zealand.
Dark, because of all the black shirts in the stand. Dark, because of the fears that so many fans carried into this match. And so often games like this just cannot live up to the absurdity of the expectation. But this match – a 15-15 draw that saw the series shared 1-1 – will stand as one of the great tests in the history of the Lions in New Zealand.
Of course there were bundles of mistakes. It is almost impossible not to throw the odd bad pass when Brodie Retallick or Maro Itoje is intent on crushing your skeleton until it squeaks. Both locks were colossal for their respective sides and are going to have many a great battle down the years.