All Blacks vs Lions: Honours even as epic final Test ends in a draw
Tourists cling on against the world champions in another nerve-shredding encounter as the series ends 1-1
All Blacks 15 British and Irish Lions 15
A triumph, a lucky escape or a missed opportunity? That is the question hanging over the British and Irish Lions after the epic third Test against the All Blacks in Auckland ended in a draw and a titanic series finished 1-1.
In another nerve-shredding encounter the tourists somehow stayed in the game against an unusually error-prone New Zealand, and emerged with a share of the spoils thanks to a 78th minute penalty from the boot of Owen Farrell.
They were also grateful for a controversial call from referee Romain Poite, who downdgraded a kickable penalty for the All Blacks to a scrum with seconds left on the clock after Ken Owens accidentally handled a knock-on from the restart.
From that set piece the Lions held firm and although New Zealand may complain about that decision but they were in a position of their own making after wasting a hatful of chances in the first half, with Beauden Barrett once again missing an easy penalty, which could have proved the difference.
There was a sense of anti-climax at the final whistle, and the sight of captains Kieran Read and Sam Warburton lifting the trophy together was bizarre, but in time the scale of the Lions' achievement will sink in. They were expected to be lambs to the slaughter against the world champions but showed huge character to recover after losing the first Test to draw the series.
"We have no answer. We have no winner. Or maybe you could fairly say that there were two winners," says Owen Slot of The Times.
"This third Test in this epic Lions series finished with the All Blacks battering away in attack and the Lions holding resolute in defence. That was kind of how this game worked. Yet, in the end, no one and nothing could separate the two."
It was an an "elemental contest that went right to the wire", says Mick Cleary of the Daily Telegraph. The draw was "the most unusual of results, unsatisfactory in some ways, but a tribute to the endeavours of all these players, a union of equals".
It was in many ways a case of unstoppable force against immovable object, and in the end they cancelled each other out.
"The Lions did not create chances on the night but nor did they yield easily," says Cleary. "They simply could not shake off the black cloak that enveloped them. New Zealand were on a redemption mission. They played with the rage of the potentially damned. But they could not trump the spirit of their opponents."
Ngani Laumape and Jordie Barrett touched down for the All Blacks in the first half but they should have scored more and would have done but for a series of knock ons in the Lions 22.
The tourists hung on and remained in touch thanks to the boot of Farrell and a monster 53 yard penalty from Elliot Daly early in the second half.
Farrell levelled the scores after 78 minutes before the last-minute drama when Owens was accidentally caught offside from the restart. A penalty 40 yards out in front of the posts was given, but then downgraded to a scrum. New Zealand were denied the opportunity to take three points but almost made it to the tryline anyway. With both sets of fans on the edge of their seats the game ended when the All Blacks were bundled into touch five yards from the line.
It was "one of the most savagely tense, harsh and compelling games you can imagine, one of the great Tests", says Stephen Jones in the Times.
That the Lions emerged undefeated was remarkable. "They did rugby in the four nations proud... to draw a series here against the world champions is sensational."
Even the New Zealand press were magnanimous. "It was always thrilling, never comfortable but for all the angst, tension and uncertainty, arguably the right result emerged from one of the best 80 minutes in recent memory," says Gregor Paul of the New Zealand Herald.
"Maybe with another minute, the All Blacks would have got there and perhaps, only just, they probably would have been the more deserving winner. But the Lions were terrific.
"They were the opponent they wanted to be and while they came up short - or not quite where they wanted - it wasn't for want of giving everything plus more."