The brutal British and Irish Lions turned Warren Gatland’s white flag into a massive red herring to square the Test series with New Zealand in Wellington.
The Lions turned their flimsy first Test tight game on its head to triumph 24-21 at the Westpac Stadium, and send the three-match series into a decider at Auckland’s Eden Park next weekend.
The tourists buckled 30-15 in the opening All Blacks clash, wilting under intense New Zealand pack pressure.
Steve Hansen then poked the Lions once too often with his taunts about physicality after New Zealand’s first Test victory.
The All Blacks boss rubbed opposite number Gatland’s nose in it after his side’s win. New Zealand’s gritty tight game had been so imperious that Hansen felt fully confident in turning the screw.
The former policeman shot out: “I always find it amusing when teams say they are going to beat us up in the tight-five,” in lording it over old rival and fellow Kiwi Gatland.
The tourists’ boss then appeared to wave the white flag in the mind games, not least when responding to the New Zealand Herald depicting him as a clown - for the second time in six months.
Gatland looked circumspect in admitting the Lions were not only well beaten in the first Test, but also at being mocked in his homeland.
The ruse fooled everyone - even the All Blacks. Because the Lions boss was not shell-shocked, and his men not beaten and bested.
Battered yes, but not cowed - and the tourists then spent the week bashing lumps out of each other in a bid to restore their physical acumen.
Yes Sonny Bill Williams’ first-half red card left the All Blacks with a mountain to climb in the second Test, a man light for the best part of an hour. Yes the Lions only won by three points despite that glaring advantage. And yes Beauden Barrett missed three regulation penalty shots at goal.
But Taulupe Faletau and Conor Murray snared tries to turn the tide for the punchy Lions, who so nearly blew it through flummoxing indiscipline.
Former All Blacks number eight Zinzan Brooke had hit out at Faletau for lacking the “mongrel edge” to succeed in this series. But the Wales back-rower again mocked that statement with another stunning showing.
The Lions’ first win in New Zealand since 1993 not only keeps this series alive, it also acts as a huge boon to an organisation that remains constantly forced to justify its very existence in the professional era.
STORY OF THE MATCH
Sonny Bill Williams was sent off as the British and Irish Lions claimed a thrilling Test series-levelling 24-21 victory over world champions New Zealand at Westpac Stadium.
Williams, one of the biggest names in world rugby, received his marching orders from French referee Jerome Garces after just 25 minutes of a titanic tussle for a dangerous shoulder charge to the head of Lions wing Anthony Watson.
He was the first All Blacks player to be sent off in a Test match since Colin Meads against Scotland 50 years ago, only the third All Black of all-time and first in New Zealand, and the home side were eventually floored by a 77th-minute Owen Farrell penalty to set up a series decider in Auckland next Saturday.
TWEET OF THE MATCH
“Wow - amazing scenes here once again - brilliant for Lions and Gatland and everyone here, incredible result” - Sir Clive Woodward (@CliveWoodward) is delighted with the win.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH
Owen Farrell blasted the winning penalty home with ease, after Charlie Faumuina was perhaps harshly penalised for tackling Kyle Sinckler in the air after the Lions prop had jumped.
Taulupe Faletau, British and Irish Lions: the Wales number eight again showed his class in an accurate showing, capping a fine night with an expertly-taken try. Just the calm head the Lions needed at the helm of their pack.
TOP MARKS JEROME GARCES
Referee Garces awarded just New Zealand’s third-ever Test match red card in dismissing Sonny Bill Williams for what he termed a “deliberate” shoulder charge to Anthony Watson’s head. The Frenchman played no favourites when reaching for red, in applying the rules to the letter of the law.