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Greatest Tour Of Our Time: Review Of The British And Irish Lions Tour

The All Blacks have been a dominant force in every British and Irish Lions tour throughout history. The 1971 Lions tour was the only time that the All Blacks did not taste victory. This year, the Lions entered New Zealand and changed all of that. Sam Warburton, although injury-ridden through the tour, led the Lions to a series draw against one of the greatest All Black teams of all time.

Warren Gatland was criticized thoroughly before the tour even began. Many believed that he was not deserving to coach the tour and his decisions on personnel were poor. When the Lions finally conquered the All Blacks in the second test, it seemed that the critics were finally silenced. Whether a fan or a critic, it cannot be said that Gatland was not successful. He has placed himself in high regard following two successful tours as the Lions head coach.

Kieran Read has been the leader of the great All Blacks through one of their most successful eras. He has led the team since Richie McCaw’s exit following the 2015 Rugby World Cup. This series has arguably been his biggest test to date as captain. Although he was not able to lead his team to a series victory, his leadership was very successful throughout.

High points

Sean O’Brien try in the first test match

The best team try of the tour, and possibly of the decade, came during the first test match. Following the restart from an All Blacks try, New Zealand box kicked to drop the ball in behind the Lions’ line. Liam Williams collected the ball inside his own 22 and made a brilliant line break. The Lions worked the ball back and forth until Sean O’Brien ended up with the ball and got across the line for the Lions’ first try of the match.

Sonny Bill Williams with the Blues against the Lions

In only the second match of the tour, the Auckland Blues delivered the Lions their first loss. One of the best moments of this match was the missed penalty by Stephen Perofeta that ended up scoring more points for the Blues. Perofeta’s kick bounced off the upright and back into the field of play. After a short game of volleyball, the ball bounced into the in-goal area where Sonny Bill Williams dove towards the ball and was able to get it down to take the lead that they would never give back.

Rieko Ioane throughout the series

The wing for the Auckland Blues and All Blacks had the best try to start ratio of any player in the tour with three tries in three starts. Every time he went on the field he caused nothing but problems for the Lions. Rieko Ioane scored the opening try for the Blues in their win over the British and Irish Lions. He also scored a pair of tries in the All Blacks’ win over the Lions in the opening test match. His speed and step were absolutely destructive against the Lions throughout the tour.

Owen Farrell’s kicking in the third test

Although Elliot Daly had the longest kick of the third test, Owen Farrell’s reliability allowed the Lions to draw even in the final test. Farrell’s final kick was an absolute thing of beauty as he was absolutely cold as ice when he made the kick that would tie the match and the series. Farrell is an absolute class player and the outcome of the series would not have been possible if not for the perfect boot of Owen Farrell.

Low Points

Stuart Hogg’s injury at the elbow of Conor Murray

Although Liam Williams would go on to win the test start at full back, early indications were that the 15 shirt would belong to Stuart Hogg. Before the tour, Hogg had been having an absolutely amazing year. For the second year in a row he was named as the man of the tournament for the Six Nations. His first few matches were not the best of his performances. Even through all of that, he was the man to beat for the full back position. All that came to an end when Hogg chipped the ball over the top in the Crusaders match. Hogg went to chase the kick and ran full speed into the point of Conor Murray’s elbow. The injury resulted in a fractured face, and an end to his tour.

Sonny Bill Williams’ Red Card

The second test match was a great match for Lions fans everywhere. It was the first win against the All Blacks since 1993. It was not a good night for Sonny Bill Williams, however. After having an amazing series between his match with the Blues and the first test with the All Blacks, Williams had a slip of discipline that would make a bad turn for the match. SBW went in for a tackle on Anthony Watson and did not attempt to wrap and put his shoulder directly into Watson’s face. It was a fairly simple call for the referee to make and he awarded Williams with a red card. This was the first red card for an All Black in 50 years, and resulted in a four-week ban for SBW.

A Tour that will be long remembered

The tour will be remembered for years to come for many reasons. It was a great competition of wills. A true battle of giants on the pitch. Neither team would be denied victory, to the point where no winner could be decided. There has been discussion of one final match to decide the series in the fall in place of the Barbarians’ match against the All Blacks. Please let us leave this moment as it is. It was a legendary series and fully worth its weight and deserving to stand on its own. The 2017 series was amazing and will go into the annals of time as one of the greatest tours of all time.

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David Bradham

Active duty Navy, have a true passion for Rugby.
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