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Pride on The Line - The Decider

Pride on The Line - The Decider

Pride on The Line - The Decider

TJ_SBWredcard_primary

WE’VE got what so many people wanted.

A series decider at Eden Park.

It’s all the Lions fans could wish for after losing the first test, everything the neutrals would have been begging for, and for All Black fans, there’s still a better than even chance to take the series.

Regardless of the circumstances of their win on Saturday night you have to pay credit to Warren Gatland and his team for the way they have become such a competitive outfit after they were so prematurely and so crudely dismissed by so many after their first two games.

In the final scheme of things, those games in Whangarei, Auckland and Dunedin mattered not one bit. They were here to win a test series, and with one game left in the series they have the chance to do just that.

Their defence has been outstanding from day one, while their own attack has developed. They have scored four tries to the All Blacks three so far, only one of which came with an extra man advantage, and have needed fewer goal kicks to be on level terms in the series.

They are organized, determined and clever, especially when it comes to the supposed “dark arts” that so many have so often accused the All Blacks of.

Gatland is not missing a single opportunity to publicly highlight some illegality in the All Blacks game, in the full knowledge that his own team is getting away with plenty.  

And they have a legion of fans that are worth points to them because they back them with full voice whether they are up or down. 

The Lions might detect just a slight hint of vulnerability about the All Blacks right now.

Normally at this stage of a tour it’s the visitors who’re battling with injuries, but they will be at full strength, while the All Blacks will be without Dane Coles, Ben Smith, SBW and mostly likely Ryan Crotty and Waisake Naholo.

Their depth is famous, but there is still a limit.

Maybe they will find a way to get Crotty on the field Saturday night - they could sure do with his error free presence and his calm leadership. Both Lions tries in Wellington came through the All Blacks leaving space in the midfield channel.

There was also some frustration with the combination of the Lions streetwise tactics and the haphazard refereeing.

That frustration may have been a factor in Sonny-Bill Williams shoulder charge on Saturday night, but if it was an act borne of frustration then it’s even less forgivable. It almost certainly cost his team the game. I’ve been on the pro side of the SBW debate, still am, but this will test the loyalty of his followers and has given his haters something to get their teeth into. He was providing real penetration in the middle of the field and will be a big loss.

His red card and four week ban were about right, although the leniency shown on the field to Mako Vunipola, and in the judicial room to Sean O’Brien did smack of inconsistency. 

And it was quite ironic (some of us know the meaning of the word, Stephen) to see Conor Murray scoring a try after Owen Farrell had dived through to take the legs of would be tackler TJ Perenara. It looked very similar to what Gatland was going on about after the first test.

So the planets lined up pretty well for the Lions over the weekend, and they will go to Eden Park with their highest confidence levels of the tour. 

I suspect they will have to play quite a lot better to stand a chance of making history.

They made the job of beating a 14 man team a lot harder than it should have been, and if they continue to give away silly penalties, then even an erratic Frenchman is going to make them pay. 

The Lions were much stronger at defending the advantage line in Wellington, but if the All Blacks can go back to the more effective ball carrying of the first test, then it can lay the table for a series deciding win.

They know they will be defending a record at Eden Park that goes back 23 years and they will not be happy at letting the game slip in Wellington, when they had fought so hard to stay in the fight when the odds were so stacked against them.

But above all this is going to be a great contest, no matter how it plays out.

Outside of a World Cup final, there is nothing bigger than this.