A British & Irish Lions Tour to New Zealand is always a special occasion, and on Saturday we were treated to a finale the series deserved.
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With the Test series level at 1-1 heading into the finale, the odds were stacked against Warren Gatland’s men as they bid to become the first team since 1994 to beat the All Blacks at Eden Park in Auckland.
Owen Farrell’s late penalty secured a 15-15 draw for the Lions, and ensured the series finished level for only the second time in Lions history.
Here we take a look at some of the reactions from pundits and former players:
First up is three-time Lions centre Jeremy Guscott, who was in no doubt as to the quality on show across the series in his BBC column.
“We have just witnessed a phenomenal Lions series,” he said.
“It was gobsmacking, unbelievable, enthralling and explosive throughout, featuring huge momentum swings and with outstanding individual performances in all three Tests.
“I thought beforehand that if they lost the first Test the Lions would lose the series 3-0, so I have to give credit to what is the strongest Lions side since 2001, or maybe even 1997, for the way they fought back.
“The quality shone through both in the players and the coaching.”
In his Telegraph column Sir Ian McGeechan admits that, although he was frustrated no side claimed victory, a draw was the right result between two evenly-matched sides.
“It is no doubt frustrating for both sides but it was fitting that there was no winner because these two sides were really well-matched,” he wrote.”
“That either side could have won it at the death was entirely appropriate, given how close this series has been.”
New Zealand have won the last two Rugby World Cups and are the world number one ranked Test side, but former All Blacks coach Graham Henry hailed the way the Lions contained their attacking game.
“You have to pay tribute to Andy Farrell’s defensive system, which has been as good as anything I have come across,” he said in the Telegraph.
“The same is true of the manner in which Warren Gatland and his coaches have managed to bring this group together in such a short space of time.
“It is an amazing achievement, well beyond the expectations of most people here. The backbone shown by the Lions was quite remarkable.”
Tony Ward was part of the Lions squad that toured South Africa in 1980, in the Irish Independent he picked out a trio of performers in Sam Warburton, Jonathan Davies and Maro Itoje, as key figures in the drawn series.
“Warburton and Davies, along with Maro Itoje – secondd only to Davies for Lions player of the Tour – were immense in Auckland when eking out a share of the spoils.
“They may have come up just short on Lions immortality, but the bravest of the brave they assuredly are. Warburton, just like Kieran Read, is a humble man and a special type of leader to rank with the very best.”
Warburton himself spoke after the game about the moment he and Kieran Read lifted the trophy. He told Wales Online about the discussions between the captains at the trophy presentation.
“We took it and I just joked around, I said ‘who has it, you or me?’ We started messing around, tugging it back and forth but we said the right thing to do is just put it back on the stand. It was a difficult one.
“But it was a nice touch from the New Zealand boys, when we got the lads in for a photo, Jerome Kaino said ‘should we mix the lads together?’ and I thought that was really nice.”
Donal Lenihan toured with the Lions as both a player and then a team manager, in his Irish Examiner column he explained that being at Eden Park was up there with anything he had experienced with the Lions.
“Billed “The Decider” in the New Zealand media all week, the decisive third Test lived up to all the pre-match hype, delivering one of the great international rugby contests of the modern era in terms of intensity and drama.
“To be in New Zealand to witness the incredible passion and fervour this tour generated was an experience, even for me.
“The New Zealand public loved the fact that they were pushed to the limit and revelled in seeing a side capable of asking more questions of their heroes than anyone else has managed for some time.”
Finally Nick Evans picked out Sean O’Brien’s wonder try in the first Test as the key moment in the series, even though it came in the only Lions Test defeat.
In the Guardian he said: “We expected a reaction from New Zealand and we certainly got it but all credit to the Lions for hanging in there on the scoreboard and keeping the pressure on the All Blacks.
“Looking back across the series, I expected more from the All Blacks. But if I were to look for a turning point, or a key moment in the tour, I would say Sean O’Brien’s try in the first Test. Yes, the Lions lost the match but it made the New Zealand public sit up and take notice.”
And just to show how much the Lions caught the imagination around the rugby world, French rugby newspaper the Midi Olympique even had a front page showing Sam Warburton and Kieran Read with the headline ‘Merci messieurs’ – Thank you gentlemen!