A late Owen Farrell penalty earned the British and Irish Lions a 24-21 second-Test victory over the 14-man All Blacks yesterday to send the three-Test series to a decider.
After All Blacks star Sonny Bill Williams was sent off for a shoulder charge 25 minutes into the game, the Lions came back from 18-9 down in the second half with two tries before Farrell kicked the winning points with three minutes remaining.
The All Blacks’ first home defeat since 2009, when they lost 29-32 to South Africa in Hamilton, leaves the series on a knife-edge ahead of next week’s third Test in Auckland.
“Give them a lot of credit for staying in the game, taking it all the way to the wire with 14 men — they did extremely well,” Lions captain Sam Warburton said. “We’re glad that we got the win and now we’ve got the finale that everybody wants.”
The Lions scored the only tries of the match with Taulupe Faletau and Conor Murray crossing in a tense second half as they recovered from being nine points down with 20 minutes to play.
New Zealand went a man down after Williams’ shoulder crunched into the head of Anthony Watson — the All Blacks’ first red card in 50 years after the legendary Colin “Pinetree” Meads was sent off against Scotland in 1967.
In the heated encounter, a must-win for the Lions after last week’s 30-15 defeat, the visitors also went a player down in the second half when prop Mako Vunipola was yellow-carded for a late challenge.
When the final whistle blew and the smoke cleared, the Lions celebrated to a roar from the sea of red-clad fans in the stands, while the All Blacks went into a close-knit huddle.
“You never want to turn up and play with 14 men, but I thought the effort was there,” All Blacks captain Kieran Read said. “We’ll turn up next week and look forward to it.”
Just as the All Blacks out-foxed the Lions in the first Test with a tactical switch to play close to the ruck, it was the Lions this time who opened up with the close forward game, with Warburton — restored as captain — relishing the intensely physical battle.
Yet for all their dominance in the opening 15 minutes, the Lions engineered their own misfortune through a knock-on by Maro Itoje, a dropped pass by Jonathan Davies and a forward pass from Johnny Sexton, all at times when the All Blacks were scrambling to defend.
It was left to kickers Barrett and Farrell to provide the early points from penalties.
After a tight first 25 minutes the game pivoted when Williams, singled out before the Test by the Lions as the All Blacks’ dangerman, was given his marching orders by French referee Jerome Garces.
When Williams departed the score was 3-3 in the rain and swirling wind at Westpac Stadium. The All Blacks were forced to sacrifice blindside flanker Jerome Kaino for debutant Ngani Laumape to maintain a full backline.
By halftime, with Barrett and Farrell trading further penalties, the score remained delicately poised at 9-9.
However, as the game progressed in the second half the All Blacks took the direct approach, running from depth onto the ball as they cranked up the physicality to crash headlong into the Lions.
It did not bring tries, but it drew enough penalties that Barrett pushed the All Blacks out to an 18-9 lead, before the effort of playing with a man down began to show.
The Lions’ opening try came from skilful use of the dual fly-half combination of Farrell and Sexton to create space and send Faletau over in the corner.
Farrell and Sexton were also instrumental in the build-up to Murray’s try to lock the score at 21-21, before Farrell kicked the match-winning penalty.
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