We’re at Achilles Point, looking out, through the rain, at Ladies Bay and Rangitoto Island. It is tipping down, biblical rain, with bright sunshine back behind us over the City and Eden Park. The front page of the Herald on Sunday has a picture of Gatland in a red nose – like it – and the headline say ‘Best of Five?’
No, no, no. They were all, Lions and ABs, dead men walking by the end last night. No one had anything left.
It was brutal, the first 15 minutes as the ABs battered the line down in front of us was immense, huge tackles and desperate defence, with flashes of brilliance and also moments of school boy error. From both sides. Talking to the AB fans at, during, and after the game, they had never seen their side pressured into such basic errors. They hadn’t ever seen their side look like they weren’t sure what to try next, or to be almost walking by the final whistle. It was an epic game, with some interesting refereeing decisions and I am so glad we were there. I have to admit though, when people ask me about the whole tour, I will have to say the Wellington game was my favourite, and not because of the win.
Wellington had an atmosphere that was electric, edge of the seat stuff, with passionate, screaming fans and wild weather to match. Last night felt edgy and almost unreal, with both teams looking apprehensive; the Lions with the chance to make history, and the ABs with the very real threat of being slaughtered in their media for losing. And they would have been – for all Hansen saying it was just another game, not something of great importance. Tell that to the fans! The ones we met were under no illusions; it had to be a win, and a good one, nothing else would do.
So, strangely, at the final whistle, as the last AB attack was bundled into the corner, it was all a bit quiet. For the first time at any of the Tests we had heard the crowd chanting for the All Blacks, soon drowned by the Lions roar. But at the end, nothing much! The AB fans left the stadium to the red hordes and they stayed to the bitter end. We had a long presentation to Read for his 100th game, and that went on while the officials ran about wondering what to do next. The dignitaries gathered on the podium – nice plants – and finally Warburton was asked to speak. His comment of ‘Wow’ sort of summed it all up. Not a lot more to say!
By the time they handed over the trophy for the 2 captains to hold, I think the medals had been hurriedly taken away and both teams decided to mingle on the platform for the fireworks and streamers. I bet they didn’t show much of any of it back home – they certainly didn’t here. The Lions walked all round the pitch to thank the fans; the ABs went off for a shower as theirs had long gone home!
Squashed onto a very slow train back into the city centre, the debates raged about who had won what. Obviously the bookies did well, as back at the start of the tour you could have had 40/1 on a series draw, reduced rapidly down throughout the game apparently! Most of the NZ fans felt the Lions had really come out on top as they had made the ABs struggle, physically, tactically and with the interpretation of the laws of the game. We couldn’t hear the discussions on the TMO stuff, but from the comments last night, and in the papers today, it looks like the referees need to bring North and South together to sort out a few basics – again.
I’m glad the ref didn’t give that last penalty – whether that was the right decision or the wrong one, I have no idea until I can watch the game again on TV, as from where we were sitting, the TMO slo-mo replays gave us no clue what was going on. It felt like a fair result when the whistle finally went, but one that neither team looked happy with.
They Lions left the field, finally, with so many in bits that I can only hope they get some time off before anyone asks them to step on a rugby pitch again. O’Brien had his shoulder taped up, Warburton, Sexton and Daly were all hobbling, Haskell has his hand strapped up and Alun Wyn looked like he wasn’t sure what planet he was on, with a black and blue face. They have been awesome, on and off the pitch, and it has been a pleasure to share the last few weeks with them.
More on the ‘tourist’ views of NZ in another post as we head home next week, but a question for those who have followed and watched the TV games; did the ‘Tadhg Furlong song’ come across clearly, complete with the wonderful Irish word ‘feckin’? We were told to sing it with more TV appropriate lyrics. Thank you can guess the response to that one.
I’m off for a last walk on the beach and another excellent coffee before attempting to stuff everything we’ve acquired into 2 not very large suitcases.
Epic night. And we were there when history was made.