Try scorer Conor Murray and fellow Ireland internationals Jonathan Sexton and Sean O’Brien all played leading roles as the British & Irish Lions produced a storming finish in wet Wellington to defeat New Zealand 24-21.
BRITISH & IRISH LIONS TOUR – SECOND TEST: Saturday, July 1
NEW ZEALAND 21 BRITISH & IRISH LIONS 24, Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Scorers: New Zealand: Pens: Beauden Barrett 7
British & Irish Lions: Tries: Taulupe Faletau, Conor Murray; Con: Owen Farrell; Pens: Owen Farrell 4
HT: New Zealand 9 British & Irish Lions 9
Sonny Bill Williams’ reckless 25th-minute red card challenge on Anthony Watson – a shoulder charge into the England winger’s face – left the All Blacks with 14 players for the remainder of the second Test.
However, the Lions were unable to make their numerical advantage count until the latter stages as Beauden Barrett’s boot, combined with some poor discipline from the tourists (13 penalties conceded), had the hosts leading 18-9 near the hour mark.
Three penalties each from Barrett and Owen Farrell had sent the two sides in level at half-time, but it looked like the Lions were going to let a golden opportunity slip as they leaked a series of penalties, including a yellow card for prop Mako Vunipola, and Barrett turned the screw from the tee.
Nonetheless, well-worked tries from Taulupe Faletau and Conor Murray – his fourth in eight Tests against New Zealand – really lifted the Lions for a big finish. Farrell converted the latter’s 69th-minute score and when Kyle Sinckler was tackled in the air with just under three minutes remaining, Farrell’s fourth successful penalty condemned the All Blacks to their first loss on home soil since 2009.
Still stinging from last weekend’s first Test defeat, the Lions came roaring out of the blocks seeking to make amends – Alun Wyn Jones with an enormous first-up tackle, while his second row partner Maro Itoje was everywhere. The Wales lock spoiled an early All Blacks lineout in the rain-soaked conditions, and both back-threes were being put to the test in an aerial bombardment.
But Itoje also knocked on when an early Lions attack, driven on by a leg-pumping carry from Tadhg Furlong, was gathering momentum – Farrell and Jonathan Sexton dovetailing nicely in midfield – as the clinical edge was still lacking for Warren Gatland’s men.
Having hit the post with an early range finder, Barrett gave New Zealand the lead soon after with a penalty won by the front row at scrum time. Vunipola was penalised, but on the opposite side, Joe Moody went unpunished for driving in at an angle.
Farrell’s response was almost immediate. With Brodie Retallick whistled up for offside at a ruck nearly halfway, the England play-maker banged over a nerveless long-range effort. Having levelled things up, it was very much ‘advantage Lions’ when Williams was shown a straight red by referee Jérôme Garcès after consultation with his assistants and TMO for his dangerous no-arms tackle on Watson.
That prompted an immediate reshuffle from Steve Hansen, Jerome Kaino withdrawn for Ngani Laumape as the stocky centre came on for his Test debut, while Anton Lienert-Brown was packing down at flanker at scrum time. Frustratingly for the vocal travelling support, the Lions struggled initially to make the most of the numerical advantage, and when Murray failed to roll away, it was Barrett who put the hosts back in front at 6-3.
Itoje helped regather the restart, however, and Farrell slotted his second penalty straight away to restore parity.
Keen to press home their advantage, the Lions were their own worst enemy as the interval approached. Sexton kicked the ball dead and Vunipola was pinged at the breakdown – he had a knee on the ground before competing for the ball – which allowed Barrett to restore the three-point lead.
Yet, the Lions scrum finally began to earn some dominance to put them on the front foot and although Watson could not quite gather Murray’s clever cross-kick out to the right, advantage was being played and Farrell split the posts for a 9-9 scoreline at the break.
The home side continued to play smartly with 14 men, Laumape carrying hard in midfield but Barrett missed a penalty from in front to give the Lions a reprieve. Although it was only temporary as a Murray high tackle then gave the Kiwi out-half another go and he made no mistake to make it 12-9.
The Lions defence was water-tight, indeed it took until the 50th minute for them to miss a tackle, but they could not get a foothold in the second period. The All Blacks were doing well to take the sting out of the game, aided it must be said by some inconsistent calls by referee Garcès and his officials – the hosts were given a penalty for a late challenge by Vunipola on Barrett, but just minutes earlier, Codie Taylor’s late hit on Farrell was ignored.
Barrett was successful with the second of two successive penalty attempts, and it got worse for the men in red before the hour, a dangerous clear-out on Barrett earning a yellow card for Vunipola and the number 10 twisted the knife to make it a two-score game at 18-9. Reinforcements arrived shortly afterwards for the Lions, Courtney Lawes the first to be introduced and the tourists, with Sean O’Brien making some penetrating carries, immediately responded.
From lineout ball off the top, Sexton wrapped around to release Watson down the right and when the ball came back left, Liam Williams fed number 8 Faletau who showed great power to brush off Israel Dagg’s attempted tackle and crash over by the left corner flag.
Farrell’s conversion was off-target but the Lions were back in it, trailing only 18-14 until replacement prop Sinckler went offside and Barrett did the rest to make it a seven-point game with 15 minutes remaining. But once again the Lions dug deep and after Jamie George’s initial burst made inroads, it was Limerick man Murray who brilliantly sniped over from close range for the second try of the half.
Farrell’s conversion sailed over this time, though, and the Lions were level at 21-all with ten tension-field minutes left. Much to Kieran Read’s annoyance, an individual error let his side down when replacement prop Charlie Faumuina’s instincts saw him tackle Sinckler in the air.
Farrell made no mistake from in front of the posts, and with Murray putting in a terrific clearance in the dying minutes and O’Brien continuing to carry strongly and link well, the Lions held on to secure their first victory over the All Blacks in 24 years.
It was a special night for the Irish players on duty as they celebrated beating the Kiwis for the second time in eight months. Murray, Sexton, Furlong, Jack McGrath and CJ Stander, who was an unused replacement today, were all starters in last November’s historic Ireland win in Chicago. Flanker O’Brien was injured for that game and clearly wants more of the same from the Lions in next Saturday’s series decider.
“It feels very good right now. Delighted with the win obviously. The crowd were unbelievable here. We made life very hard for ourselves, though – that’s what is running through my head at the minute,” he said afterwards.
“But we worked incredibly hard for one another out there and we really fronted up today. We had cool heads, we knew our plan very well this week. We knew what we had to do. We spoke about it last week and we didn’t perform. That’s the pleasing thing today, we stuck to the plan – bar the discipline – and it went well for us.
“(At 18-9 down), we just had to keep the ball and bring them through phases. Our game-plan then implemented itself. We put a few phases together and got a bit of space and finished off a couple of excellent scores. But we’ll need a better performance next week. We’ll regroup and go again.”
Try scorer Murray admitted: “Any time you score a try against New Zealand, it’s an awesome feeling. Typical from me that it was a short range effort, finishing off the good work of the lads. I was happy to go over and help the team.
“It’s 1-1 now and we have a chance to win this and that was the aim of tonight. It’s a good week to go training, had we lost today it would have been a tough week. There’s going to be a bounce in our step.”
TIME LINE: 20 minutes – New Zealand penalty: Beauden Barrett – 3-0; 23 mins – B&I Lions penalty: Owen Farrell – 3-3; 25 mins – New Zealand red card: Sonny Bill Williams; 32 mins – New Zealand penalty: Beauden Barrett – 6-3; 34 mins – B&I Lions penalty: Owen Farrell – 6-6; 36 mins – New Zealand penalty: Beauden Barrett – 9-6; 40+2 mins – B&I Lions penalty: Owen Farrell – 9-9; Half-time – New Zealand 9 B&I Lions 9; 44 mins – New Zealand penalty: missed by Beauden Barrett – 9-9; 48 mins – New Zealand penalty: Beauden Barrett – 12-9; 53 mins – New Zealand penalty: missed by Beauden Barrett – 12-9; 54 mins – New Zealand penalty: Beauden Barrett – 15-9; 56 mins – B&I Lions yellow card: Mako Vunipola; 58 mins – New Zealand penalty: Beauden Barrett – 18-9; 60 mins – B&I Lions try: Taulupe Faletau – 18-14; conversion: missed by Owen Farrell – 18-14; 67 mins – New Zealand penalty: Beauden Barrett – 21-14; 69 mins – B&I Lions try: Conor Murray – 21-19; conversion: Owen Farrell – 21-21; 78 mins – B&I Lions penalty: Owen Farrell – 21-24; Full-time – New Zealand 21 B&I Lions 24
NEW ZEALAND: Israel Dagg; Waisake Naholo, Anton Lienert-Brown, Sonny Bill Williams, Rieko Ioane; Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith; Joe Moody, Codie Taylor, Owen Franks, Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock, Jerome Caino, Sam Cane, Kieran Read (capt).
Replacements used: Ngani Laumape for Kaino (27 mins), Wyatt Crockett for Moody, Charlie Faumuina for Franks (both 53), Aaron Cruden for Naholo (60), Ardie Savea for Cane (64), TJ Perenara for Smith (66), Scott Barrett for Whitelock (73) Nathan Harris for Taylor (80).
BRITISH & IRISH LIONS: Liam Williams (Scarlets/Wales); Anthony Watson (Bath/England), Jonathan Davies (Scarlets/Wales), Owen Farrell (Saracens/England), Elliot Daly (Wasps/England); Jonathan Sexton (Leinster/Ireland), Conor Murray (Munster/Ireland); Mako Vunipola (Saracens/England), Jamie George (Saracens/England), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster/Ireland), Maro Itoje (Saracens/England), Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys/Wales), Sam Warburton (Cardiff Blues/Wales) (capt), Sean O’Brien (Leinster/Ireland), Taulupe Faletau (Bath/Wales).
Replacements used: Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs/England) for Watson (25-31 mins), Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints/England) for Jones (59), Kyle Sinckler (Harlequins/England) for Furlong (62), Jack McGrath (Leinster/Ireland) for O’Brien (64), O’Brien for Vunipola (66). Not used: Ken Owens (Scarlets/Wales), CJ Stander (Munster/Ireland), Rhys Webb (Ospreys/Wales), Ben Te’o (Worcester Warriors/England).
Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)