Archive for July, 2017

An Unacceptable Outcome.

Thursday, July 13th, 2017

Draws or ties have no place in American sports. They want a winner and a loser. Try and explain to an American that in test matches in cricket they can play for five days and finish with a draw. Mind you, I can recall some test matches where a draw resulted in an exciting finish. Who can forget Colin Cowdrey marching out to bat with a broken arm to save the test against Hall and Griffith at Lords in 1963?

Football has provided us with some exciting draws where a point won the Championship for a club, or a hard earned point saved them from relegation. But England’s win over West Germany in the 1966 World Cup Final was achieved by the match extending into extra time. Can you imagine the anti-climax if the two teams had to settle for a draw and share the World Cup?

But that’s precisely what the British Lions and All Blacks had to be content with. Competing in a best of three test match series,  each team had won one with subsequently  all to play for in the third and final test. The tour began with sleeping pills and howls about a “suicidal” schedule. After the first two games the Lions were being called “pathetic” and incompetent by the locals. So it was no surprise when The All Blacks  comfortably won the first test 30-15.

By the time the second Test approached, Coach Gatland was wearing a clown’s nose and the whole future of the Lions was in doubt. That was all forgotten as everyone was heading back to Auckland to settle the argument after a crazy night in Wellington.

Let’s be clear about one thing. The Lions had been very lucky in the second test. The All Blacks were reduced to 14 players when Sonny Boy Williams was sent off in the 25th minute for a reckless shoulder charge into the unprotected jaw of Lions wing Anthony Watson. The All Blacks actually led at half time and it was only the result of two late tries that won the day for the Lions 24-21.

More to the point, the Lions were 14-21 down with 13 minutes to play. The last occasion the All Blacks lost at home was to South Africa in 2009; as well as the 47 test unbeaten home record. It is also three years since New Zealand failed to score a try in a test match.

The Lions management, coaches, and players had to be buoyed by the victory even it wasn’t very convincing, and they had to be very confident of winning the series in the third and final test. Everything was on the line – a series decider, a World Cup Final. Did I forget to mention that the All Blacks are the reigning World Champions, and had not lost at Eden Park since losing to France in 1994.

The Lions had not won a series in New Zealand since 1971. The last time the All Blacks lost two in a row at home was way back in 1998, a defeat to South Africa in Wellington compounded by another a week later in Christchurch against Australia. And yet the Lions felt they were perfectly poised to ruin another weekend for the All Blacks and their fans after the come-from-behind victory in Wellington.

The Lions fielded an unchanged team from the previous test while the panicky All Blacks made several changes. On this occasion it was the All Blacks who scored two tries and the Lions had to be content with 5 penalties, four from Farrell and a long range effort from the English winger, Daly. The game proved to be  very tense affair littered with basic mistakes. The All Blacks led for most of the match until Farrell leveled the scores 4 minutes from time. There was further drama at the very end of the game when the Lions hooker was adjudged to be offside, and the referee awarded the All Blacks a kickable penalty only to change in his mind after consulting video evidence. So the match ended in a 15-15 draw and the series tied. The Lions coach summed it up succinctly when asked for his reaction: “It’s like kissing your sister!”

I’m not suggesting they should have played extra time, or been subject to a penalty shoot out. But I just believe it was a terrific anti-climax following the narrow win in Auckland and the All Blacks were there for the taking. It was a very good but unsatisfactory finish to  what turned out to be a pulsating and riveting series.