It was by far the finest act of sporting theatre of 2017 thus far; that is the British & Irish Lions comeback victory in Wellington, recovering from 18-9 down to triumph 24-21.
Admittedly, the build-up throughout the British press, and indeed from myself, was gloomy, but on a dank and dismal Saturday evening at the Westpac Stadium, the Lions claimed only their second victory in a New Zealand paddock in 40 years. The last occasion the All Blacks lost on home soil was to South Africa in 2009. It had been three years since New Zealand failed to score a try.
We must begin by taking note of the game-changing moment which occurred in the 25th minute as Sonny Bill Williams was shown a red card for a shoulder barge to the face of Anthony Watson, reducing the host nation to 14 men for the remaining 55 minutes – and let us give a nod to the bravery of referee Jerome Garces, who held his responsibility for player welfare despite brandishing the first ever red card for an All Black on New Zealand soil.
As the rain poured and Williams headed for the showers in slovenly fashion, reality dawned for the Lions – this was the best chance they would have to beat the infamous All Blacks.
That said, Warren Gatland’s men were not at their best and looked as if they had squandered their opportunity when they were 18-9 down.
However, there were two flashes of sublime brilliance in nine minutes from the Lions as Taulupe Faletau and Conor Murray tries drew the tourists level and Owen Farrell duly dispatched the following three-pointer to claim victory.
Faletau powered home, while Murray displayed incisive vision to snipe off the breakdown and score an individual try which will be shown to many-a-future Lions.
Nevertheless, the Lions conceded a mammoth 13 penalties, a count not usually associated with winning Tests – one of which leading to Mako Vunipola spending 10 minutes in the sin bin and Gatland must address the discipline issue before they return to Eden Park.
One thing is certain, the All Blacks will return with vengeance. While this victory was a remarkable scalp for the Lions, Sam Warburton made it clear in the immediate aftermath, “It’s only a half a job done.”
The Lions have come to New Zealand to win. It would offer sporting immortality to ever member of the squad and backroom staff.
Beating the All Blacks was a major feat, credit to Gatland’s Lions. But taking series victories would ensure history remembers the 2017 Lions squad as the greatest of all time.
Surely they couldn’t, could they?