New Zealand and the British and Irish Lions played out a historic 15-all draw at Eden Park in Auckland after some late drama saw Owen Farrell level the scores with two minutes remaining.
This was the first tied series between the two sides and only the second in British and Irish Lions’ tour history after the 2-all series draw against South Africa in 1955.
Some controversial refereeing by Romain Poite saw the All Blacks awarded a last minute penalty for accidental offsides by Ken Owens, only to go to the TMO and overturn his original decision.
First-half tries by Ngani Laumape and Jordie Barrett saw the Kiwis take a 12-6 half-time lead.
But four penalties by Farrell and a monster kick from about 55-metres by Elliot Daly early in the second-half gave the Lions the draw as they came from behind to draw the series 1-all.
The moral victory will go to the tourists, but judging by the silence at full-time and Sam Warburton and Kieren Read’s post-match interviews, both sides know they missed out on history and immortality.
The Lions had only won one series against the All Blacks in 129 years and that was in 1971. They came with an intent on inflicting New Zealand’s first series defeat of the professional era, since they lost to France, 2-0, in 1994.
Consequently, that was the last time a nation defeated the Kiwis at Eden Park, a run that has stretched to 39 matches after today’s draw.
Warren Gatland named an unchanged team for the showdown, only the sixth time a Lions’ touring party has done so.
Kicking would prove crucial in this decider and Beauden Barrett, who missed three vital penalties in last week’s Wellington defeat, missed again with an early shot at goal.
Both teams tried to punch holes through the middle, before sending the ball wide. However, handling errors by both, stopped much of the side’s momentum.
Julian Savea spilt an early chance and a few more knock-ons inside the Lions’ 22, proved costly.
Beauden Barrett was defending at inside channel and Ngani Laumape at standoff to counter Jonathan Davies’ ‘Warrenball’ tactics.
After some sustained Kiwi pressure, the older Barrett sent a cross-kick to Jordie Barrett, standing wide on the touchline.
The younger Barrett outjumped Elliot Daly, threw the ball back on infield, and on the bounce, Laumape gathered and ran in to score.
The conversion was good and the home team led by seven points.
Both flyhalves were using the up-and-under to find territory, something the men in black are renowned for. Eventually, this led to a penalty for the Lions, which Farrell slotted.
Again, the black tide came, but yet again, the ball was spilt, this time by Sam Kane. The Kiwi pack was starting to get some dominance in the scrums, but could not make the most of it.
The Lions survived more onslaughts with outstanding defence, aided by All Black errors. The Lions won an important penalty, late in the first-half, and Farrell made it a one-point game.
Then, as New Zealand often do, they scored with less than five minutes to the break.
From the set piece, the All Blacks go wide, Laumape made the break and wrapped a pass around a defender to Anton Lienert-Brown.
The outside centre ghosted through a gap and sent the ball wide and long to Jordie Barrett, who raced in for the score. His brother missed the conversion, but the Kiwis led 12-6.
At the beginning of the second-half, Elliot Daly kicked a monster 55-metre penalty after Kieren Read pulled Liam Williams back, without the ball.
The All Blacks came again, however, the same handling mistakes were killing their attacks. There were 10 handling errors inside 50 minutes – very unlike the three-time World Champions.
Jerome Kaino accidentally hit Alun Wyn Jones on the jaw in an attempted tackle, and although not malicious, was sent to the sin-bin.
The Lions kept coming, but now, their lineout was not functioning, Jamie George not hitting his jumpers and momentum was lost.
Farrell tied the scores at 12-all, with a long-range penalty with 20 minutes remaining before Beauden Barrett put his side ahead, eight minutes’ later.
As time ran down, Williams and Israel Dagg made errors; the Welsh fullback knocking another high ball forward and Dagg, being held up in the tackle when he should have gone low or passed.
The clock was ticking down, the Kiwis were on the attack, but they squandered another opportunity and soon after, Wyatt Crockett was penalised for not rolling away, giving the English flyhalf a chance to tie the scores.
Farrell, who was again perfect from the kicking tee, made no mistake, slotting the penalty that sent the Lions’ travelling support into delirium.
However, it was short-lived after Owen’s accidentally handled the ball in an offside position from the restart.
Mr Poite blew for a penalty, but then, bizarrely called for assistance with TMO George Ayoub. Owen’s held his hands up immediately after attempting to catch the ball, the sign of a guilty man.
Yet, after the review, the referee and TMO, seemed to decide that it was a penalty, only for Poite to award a scrum – much to Read’s annoyance.
Despite the skipper, playing in his 100th Test, the Frenchman awarded a scrum instead. There was bemusement in the stands and at home with the call and the Lions held on for the draw and tied series.
The game ended in an eery silence, as both sets of fans – and the players – took in the knowledge that the series would end in stalemate.
Final score: All Blacks 15 (12) British and Irish Lions 15 (6)
Tries – Laumape, J. Barrett
Pen – B. Barrett
Con – B. Barrett
Cards – Kaino (Yellow, 50th minute)
British and Irish Lions
Pen – Farrell (4), Daly
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant 1: Jérôme Garcès (France)
Assistant 2: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)
New Zealand All Blacks
15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Israel Dagg, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Aaron Cruden, 23 Malakai Fekitoa.
British & Irish Lions
15 Liam Williams, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Elliot Daly, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Sean O’Brien, 6 Sam Warburton (captain), 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Jamie George, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 Courtney Lawes, 20 Christiaan Stander, 21 Rhys Webb, 22 Ben Te’o, 23 Jack Nowell