Liam Williams admitted that he loves “having a run” after setting up one of the greatest tries in British and Irish Lions history.
The Wales international and Lions full-back, who joins European champions Saracens later this summer, left New Zealand defenders trailing in his wake on Saturday as the Lions briefly stunned the world champions at Eden Park.
The try – an 80-metre move started by Williams’ weaving break from deep inside his own half – was finished off by flanker Sean O’Brien following key assists from centre Jonathan Davies and wing Elliot Daly.
Ultimately, though, the Lions were smashed into submission by New Zealand’s relentless physicality and set-piece domination as the All Blacks triumphed 30-15 ahead of this weekend’s second Test in Wellington.
“I love playing 15, and I love having the ball in hand and I love having a run,” Williams said. “There are times when you have to stick it long or go up to the air. It was on, and I had a go and at the end of that move we had scored in the left-hand corner. I looked up, I saw a bit of space and I just stuck my head down.”
Williams and company almost repeated the feat just after half-time, following another sweeping move that this time also involved wing Anthony Watson.
“It was close,” added Williams, pictured below. “I went on the outside, Ant came back underneath me, and I’ve literally just handed him the ball. He is class you know, he has got great feet, he has got great speed. I thought I would just give him a go. It was close, but we just didn’t get over the line.”
The Lions started the better team at Eden Park and almost made a dream beginning when both Conor Murray and Elliot Daly went close. But it was the hosts who drew first blood when fly-half Beauden Barrett kicked a 14th-minute penalty.
Just five minutes later, New Zealand sacrificed a kickable close-range penalty and sent possession wide at a rate of knots before hooker Codie Taylor picked up spectacularly and scored out wide. Barrett kicked an effortless touchline conversion.
Owen Farrell and Barrett then exchanged penalties before O’Brien’s breathtaking score, with the Lions trooping off just 13-8 adrift at the break.
The second half, though, belonged to the hosts. Wing Rieko Ioane, a full Test debutant, grabbed a couple of touchdowns – his first after suspicion of a knock-on – and Barrett completed his hat-trick of penalties.
Replacement scrum-half Rhys Webb’s try deep into injury time that Farrell converted proved a mere consolation.
The Lions’ quest for a first Test series victory over New Zealand since 1971 now rests on winning in Wellington on Saturday, then back in Auckland seven days later.
Given that New Zealand are unbeaten at Eden Park since 1994, and the Lions have not won a Test series from being 1-0 down for 28 years, the odds are overwhelmingly stacked against them.
“This was the biggest game of my life, and an absolute honour just to be out there on the pitch with the boys, but there are ups and downs,” Williams said.
“We switch off for a second, and we turn around and they are under the sticks. We will look back at the video, dust ourselves down and come back next week.”