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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 September 2018

All Blacks-Lions stalemate an anticlimax to a six-week festival of rugby

A drawn Test series was probably the best result. There were no losers, and, to borrow from the Sam Warburton cheese-board, rugby was the winner.

Referee Romain Poite speaks with All Blacks captain Kieran Read as he downgrades a call made in the final minutes from a penalty to a scrum during the Test match against the British & Irish Lions at Eden Park on July 8, 2017 in Auckland, New Zealand.
Referee Romain Poite speaks with All Blacks captain Kieran Read as he downgrades a call made in the final minutes from a penalty to a scrum during the Test match against the British & Irish Lions at Eden Park on July 8, 2017 in Auckland, New Zealand.

How do you go about silencing 25,000 people who have travelled halfway round the world with the expressed intention of making noise?

Or the best part of five million rugby obsessives baying for a win to last them through the next 12 years?

Call it a draw. No extra time. No golden point. No penalty shoot-out. No Super Over, no rock-paper-scissors. Just an anticlimactic handshake, a shrug of the shoulders, and see you all again, same time, same place, in 2029.

A drawn Test, and a tied series. The fourth drawn Test between the sides in history, and the first tied British & Irish Lions series since 1955 in South Africa.

Maybe that was the best result after all. There were no losers, and, to borrow from the Sam Warburton cheese-board, rugby was the winner.

You would not have been able to tell it, though, from the crowd reaction when Romain Poite had a little think about it, then begrudgingly blew his final whistle on the 2017 Lions series.

For the first time in six weeks of compelling rugby, there was silence. The cacophony had ended, and there was no ultimate hero, or ultimate villain. Apart from the referee, obviously.

“Heart-wrenching,” is how Kieran Read, the 100-cap All Blacks captain, termed it in his TV interview following the 15-15 draw in Auckland. This was not what his team had set out for.

“I was getting ready for extra time,” Warburton, the Lions captain, said. Although he acknowledged that, while the mind was willing, the legs were not.

Then they picked up the trophy together. Who took it home, who knows. Maybe it was sawed in two.

New Zealand's Kieran Read, left, with British & Irish Lions captain Sam Warburton.
New Zealand's Kieran Read, left, with British & Irish Lions captain Sam Warburton.

Neither seemed overly keen to talk at that stage, but they had been equally garrulous moments earlier, when Poite initially awarded a 79th-minute penalty to New Zealand.

Warburton first ordered his team to stop questioning the referee, and implored them to “set up for a tap, set up for a tap,” recalling the quick penalty scores of the first Test.

Then he seemed to talk down the official, eventually getting the decision downgraded to a scrum.

It was decisive, as it was the final scoring chance of the game, leading Read to want words of his own with the Frenchman. His fell on deaf ears, though.

It felt somewhat inevitable that this series, for all its sparkling rugby, might end in a squabble over a referee’s decision.

The game deserves to be remembered for so much more. The 100th appearance of Read. Beauden Barrett’s laser guided cross kicks. Owen Farrell’s nerve. Elliot Daly’s left boot.

For Maro Itoje occasionally being caught onside. And for it being the end of the road for some old warriors, and the flowering of some new heroes.

Some (widely disproved) conventional wisdom has it that you will not win anything with kids, but the kids were alright in the series decider for the All Blacks.

Jordie Barrett, 20, and playing just his second Test, was like a walking highlights reel. He set up the first try by rising on the touchline and pawing back a cross kick from brother Beauden for Ngani Laumape.

Laumape later returned the favour via a remarkable offload, of which the celebrated player for which he was deputising would have been proud himself.

This was a player making his first start, in a Lions decider, and attempting to cover the loss through suspension of Sonny Bill Williams. He did a passable impression of Williams with the pass that led to Jordie Barrett’s try.

The Lions did prove the accepted theory that you cannot beat the All Blacks if you don’t score tries. But four penalties by Farrell, and a rocket launch by Daly from his own half at least meant they did not lose.

And at the end of it all, there was silence.

Same time, same place next week? We can only wish.

Results:

First Test: New Zealand 30 British & Irish Lions 15

Second Test: New Zealand 21 British & Irish Lions 24

Third Test: New Zealand 15 British & Irish Lions 15

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