Barry John was the Lions' primary points-scorer during the game but it was a stunning drop goal from JPR Williams that eventually clinched the series win for the Lions. Peter Dixon ended his Lions career in style by scoring his team's solitary try having been a last-minute pre-match replacement for Derek Quinnell.
The match was a fitting end to a tour that had begun so badly with defeat in the opening match against New South Wales but concluded as one of the most successful in Lions history.
Unfortunately for the Lions and their supporters, no side has since matched those achievements and the 1971 squad remains the only side to have toppled the All Blacks.
NEW ZEALAND 14 BRITISH & IRISH LIONS 14
Half-time: 8-8 Venue: Eden Park, Auckland Attendance: 56,000
Scorers: New Zealand: Tries - Cottrell, Lister; Con - Mains; Pens - Mains 2; Lions: Try - Dixon; Con - John; Pens - John 2; Drop goal - Williams
SETTING THE SCENE
The Lions travelled to New Zealand looking to banish memories of their 4-0 whitewash at the hands of the All Blacks five years earlier. There was only ever going to be one winner when the '66 tourists arrived in the Land of the Long White Cloud but there was a sense that the momentum was beginning to shift when the squad of '71 won the first Test 9-3 at Carisbrook.
That victory was just the second time in history that the Lions had won a Test at Dunedin's famous old ground and, despite a second-Test defeat in Christchurch, the Lions' belief that the All Blacks could be beaten had been well and truly confirmed.
Following their 22-12 loss at Lancaster Park on July 10, the Lions bounced back in superb fashion to claim a 13-3 win in Wellington three weeks later. That victory moved the Lions 2-1 ahead in the series and meant a draw would be enough for a previously unattainable series triumph.
The Lions made just a single change to the side that had clinched a third Test victory a fortnight earlier, and that was forced upon them in the lead up to kick off. Injury to the Welsh flanker Derek Quinnell (the only uncapped player in the Lions party), saw Peter Dixon of Harlequins named in the No7 shirt, with John Taylor moving across to the blindside flank.
Mervyn Davies continued at No8 for the fourth of his eight successive international starts across two Lions tours, while Scotland's Gordon Brown retained his place in the second row having taken over from Delme Thomas for the third Test. The now legendary Willie John McBride earned his first series win as a Lion alongside Brown as he put the disappointments of 1962, 1966 and 1968 well and truly behind him.
Consistency in selection was a theme throughout the tour, with the front row a perfect example. Both props and the hooker remained constant for all four internationals, with Bristol's John Pullin scrumming down in between Ian McLauchlan of Jordanhill College and Scotland and Sean Lynch of St Mary's College and Ireland.
The Lions named the same backline for the third Test in a row, with Welshmen Gareth Edwards, Barry John, John Dawes, Gerald Davies and JPR Williams being joined by Ireland's Mike Gibson and England's David Duckham in arguably the greatest back division ever to represent the Home Unions.
Welsh fly-half Barry John was part of a magical Lions backline
Only two other backs featured for the Lions in the four-match Test series, with John Bevan starting the first Test on the wing instead of Duckham and Chico Hopkins featuring at scrum-half in the same match after Gareth Edwards had left the field injured with just seven minutes played.
Unlike the Lions, for whom the spine of the team remained the same throughout all four Tests, New Zealand made a number of alterations in key positions.
The home side featured a much-changed midfield as Phil Gard made his one and only Test appearance in the centres alongside fellow debutant Mick Duncan after Wayne Cottrell had been forced to move from inside centre to fly-half in place of the injured Bob Burgess.
Having surprisingly recalled semi-retired second row Brian Lochore to the starting line up for the third Test in Wellington, the New Zealand selectors dispensed with their former captain in favour of Peter Whiting who had recovered from an injury he picked up prior to the Lions' win in Wellington. The second change to the All Black pack saw Tom Lister replace Allan McNaughton who had started the previous three Tests at flanker.
New Zealand: L Mains; K Carrington, M Duncan, P Gard, B Williams; W Cottrell, S Going; R Guy, R Norton, B Muller, P Whiting, C Meads (captain), I Kirkpatrick, T Lister, A Wyllie
British & Irish Lions: JPR Williams (London Welsh/Wales); David Duckham (Coventry/England), Mike Gibson (NIFC/Ireland), John Dawes (London Welsh/Wales, captain), Gerald Davies (Cambridge University/Wales); Barry John (Cardiff/Wales), Gareth Edwards (Cardiff/Wales); Ian McLauchlan (Jordanhill/Scotland), John Pullin (Bristol/England), Gordon Brown (West of Scotland/Scotland), Willie John McBride (Ballymena/Ireland), Peter Dixon (Harlequins/England), John Taylor (London Welsh/Wales), Mervyn Davies (London Welsh/Wales)
Replacement: Delme Thomas (Llanelli/Wales) for Brown
Referee: John Pring (Auckland, New Zealand)
With so much at stake for both sides, the fourth and final Test was expected to be a closely-fought affair. That was exactly how it turned out in front of a 56,000-strong crowd at Eden Park as neither team dropped the intensity throughout an action-packed 80 minutes.
Light rain fell as the Lions kicked off in New Zealand's biggest city but it was only a matter of minutes before the change in weather was no longer a talking point. At just the second lineout of the match, Whiting punched his opposite number Brown and was reprimanded by the referee. That didn't bring an end to the incident, however, as things flared up once more shortly afterwards.
After a fiery start, it was the All Blacks who were first on the scoreboard courtesy of a fourth-minute try from stand-off Cottrell. The Canterbury pivot sprinted clear after Gard had supplied the final pass despite the best efforts of Lions skipper Dawes. The try came from a New Zealand scrum 10 metres from the Lions line and saw No8 Alex Wylie and scrum-half Sid Going also involved in a well-executed move.
Sid Going and the All Blacks couldn't avoid a first series defeat to the Lions
Lawrie Mains added the conversion before the Lions found themselves even further behind with the game 10 minutes old when the Otago full back was on target with his first penalty attempt of the day. Mains made no mistake from just over 30 metres after Edwards had been penalised for feeding at a Lions scrum.
The Lions chose to put boot to ball throughout most of a first-half that was high in commitment but low in individual skill and it took until the 37th minute before they had anything to shout about.
Having failed with penalty attempts in the 24th and 34th minutes, John reduced the deficit three minutes before half-time as the Lions enjoyed their most rewarding period of the match. John's first penalty closed the gap to five points after All Black prop Ritchie Guy had been penalised at a ruck, before the Lions levelled the scores with a converted try of their own.
The try itself came about as a result of a New Zealand error but it made no difference to the Lions who gladly accepted the gift as the match began to turn in their favour. After All Black wing Ken Carrington threw to the back of the lineout when the hosts were defending deep in their own territory, Edwards picked up possession from the ruck that followed and darted towards the line. Although the world's greatest player was stopped just short, Dixon was in support to dive over for his second try in Lions colours.
John brought the half-time score to 8-apiece with a well-struck conversion to leave the Lions the happier of the two sides entering the break.
Things got even better for the Lions three minutes into the second-half when Taranaki front row forward Brian Muller stamped on Dixon to present the Lions with another penalty 40 metres from goal. John sent the ball through the New Zealand uprights to move the Lions ahead for the first time in the match.
The Lions failed to hang on to their advantage for long, however, as the Kiwis hit back seven minutes later. An impressive individual burst from New Zealand wing Brian Williams took play up to the corner flag, with flanker Lister claiming the ensuing lineout to fall over for a second All Black try.
Fortunately for the Lions, and crucially given the outcome of the match and the series, Mains sent his relatively straightforward conversion attempt wide of the posts to leave the scores tied once more.
JPR Williams kicked a series-clinching drop goal against the All Blacks
The Lions' final score of the Test series arrived through a 45-metre drop goal from one of the stars of the tour, JPR Williams. The former junior tennis champion was known for his outstanding counter attacking skills and bravery in defence as opposed to his ability to drop a goal from just inside opposition territory. With Williams, one came to expect the unexpected, however, so, in that respect, it was a more than fitting way for the Lions to bring the curtain down on a truly remarkable series.
There were still 26 minutes of the match left to play but, despite their best efforts, the All Blacks failed to find a winning score.
They did manage to level proceedings with a second Mains penalty eight minutes from time but James' men held firm to bring to an end 68 years of New Zealand Test dominance against the Lions.
WHAT THEY SAID
Mervyn Davies (Lions No8)
"If you want to be seen as a great rugby player you have to prove yourself on the toughest playing fields of all, New Zealand. Just like every other Lions side before us, we wanted to win - the real difference with us, though, was that we actually believed we could.
"Everyone has this image of the 1971 Lions playing wonderful, expansive rugby throughout New Zealand, but the real truth was that the method wasn't important to us, it was just the result we wanted.
"And when it came to the crunch, we shut up shop and played a tight game. It was a question of survival, with the boot of Barry John kicking us out of trouble for most of the time.
"The record books show that we won the Series with two victories and a draw, but I still struggle to this day to understand how we managed to keep the All Blacks at bay."
Colin Meads (New Zealand captain)
"The 1971 Lions were a great side and very well prepared. They had brilliant backs like Gareth Edwards and JPR Williams, but they won the series up front.
"They had a good forward pack and they matched us. And in rugby, if it's not done up front, it's not done all."
The 1971 Lions fought hard up front and had class out wide
Rod Chester and Neville McMillan (authors of Men in Black)
"The 1971 Lions were one of the best teams ever to tour New Zealand. With an outstanding coach in former Welsh international Carwyn James, an equally outstanding captain in John Dawes and a diplomatic manager in 1950 Lion Doug Smith, the tourists were very popular on and off the field.
"Their backs were brilliant and, unlike Lions' teams which had preceded them, they had forwards to match the New Zealand packs."
THE LIONS IN AUCKLAND:
The Lions have appeared in a total of 27 fixtures in New Zealand's biggest city, enjoying mixed fortunes against provincial, representative and international opposition. The 1971 tour saw the Lions record two victories and a draw, while the 1959 squad can boast the best record in the city having won all three of their matches against Auckland, the New Zealand Maori and the All Blacks.
P 27 W 14 L 11 D 2
1888: Auckland 3 Lions 6
Auckland 4 Lions 0
Auckland 0 Lions 3
Auckland 1 Lions 1
1904: Auckland 13 Lions 0
1908: Auckland 11 Lions 0
1930: Auckland 19 Lions 6
1950: Auckland 0 Lions 42
1959: Auckland 10 Lions 15
NZ Maori 6 Lions 12
New Zealand 6 Lions 9
1966: Auckland 6 Lions 12
NZ Maori 14 Lions 16
New Zealand 24 Lions 11
1971: NZ Maori 12 Lions 23
Auckland 12 Lions 19
New Zealand 14 Lions 14
1977: NZ Maori 19 Lions 22
Auckland 15 Lions 34
New Zealand 10 Lions 9
1983: Auckland 13 Lions 12
New Zealand 38 Lions 6
1993: North Harbour 13 Lions 29
Auckland 23 Lions 18
New Zealand 30 Lions 13
2005: Auckland 13 Lions 17
New Zealand 38 Lions 19