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The Lions etched their names into rugby history by beating the World Champions, New Zealand, in an enthralling and riveting 80 minutes of action to level the series at 1-1.

Here, Wil Jones’ Lion Watch takes its third instalment

Roaring

Sean O’Brien

One of the Lions’ most consistent performers all tour, the Leinsterman was monumental in the second test match in Wellington. Forget the number on the back of his shirt, O’Brien covers every aspect of back row play: he disrupts the breakdown, hammers into tackles, and his carrying is monstrous. O’Brien can feel himself somewhat lucky to escape a ban having been cited for a careless contact with All Blacks winger Waisake Naholo. Fortunately, he is free to play, and the Lions will be relying on him to produce a similar performance in the final test; not least because his impact will allow captain Sam Warburton- who is still regaining his match fitness- the chance to thrive at ruck time, an area the Lions will have to attack to win the final game.

Tadhg Furlong

Where tighthead Adam Jones was one of the stars of the 2013 Lions series, Furlong is surely in the running to be man of the series for 2017.

“he set the tone for the rest of the match”

Whilst his size and power in the scrum was always going to give Joe Moody a tough time, it is his surprising impact in the loose that makes Furlong worth his weight in gold. He had to contend with teammate Mako Vunipola struggling on the opposite side of his front row yet managed to lock the set piece successfully on his side to at least give the Lions stability if not outright dominance at scrum time. He tackled and rucked tirelessly, but whilst he only made one carry in Wellington, it was a crucial one, bullocking over Jerome Kaino in the 5th minute in what set the tone for the rest of the game. The fact that Furlong can play better is a testament to how good he is.

Kyle Sinckler

What a season the young Harlequins tighthead has had. He has been a bundle of energy coming on as a replacement, or rather a ‘finisher’, for both England and the Lions and along with Maro Itoje his tenacity and hunger in the tackle area as the game drew to a close led to the crucial swing in momentum from which the Lions scored the decisive penalty. The challenge for Sinckler will be how he fares when starting test matches and the impact that gruelling intensity has on his loose play, but that is a question for the future; as it is, the Lions have a cannonball of a prop to bring on in the final test, one who looks very much at home playing the high intensity rugby required to match the Southern Hemisphere giants.

 

Sleeping

Mako Vunipola

The loosehead prop has never been renowned for his scrummaging, and his opponent Owen Franks gave him a tough time in that area. Unfortunately, Vunipola also conceded several unnecessary penalties- including the careless clear out that put him in the sin bin- and the Lions cannot afford similar indiscipline if they are to compete in the final test. Due to his handling and mobility, Vunipola is in many ways the perfect impact substitution, but if he is in the matchday squad he may well start; the Lions will not want a shaky set piece in the dying minutes of the game, and it might be better to haul Vunipola off early rather than rely on him late on if he is to repeat his problems at the scrum.

“he is in many ways the perfect impact subsitution”

Due to his handling and mobility, Vunipola is in many ways the perfect impact substitution, but if he is in the matchday squad he may well start; the Lions will not want a shaky set piece in the dying minutes of the game, and it might be better to haul Vunipola off early rather than rely on him late on if he is to repeat his problems at the scrum.

Sonny Bill Williams

The All Blacks centre is one of the most affable players in the game but his illegal shoulder charge on Lions winger Anthony Watson was an inexcusable mistake. His dismissal in the first half of the game was almost certainly the difference between the All Blacks winning and losing and he cut a dejected figure at the final whistle. With a four week ban forcing him out of the final test he will have to look on from the sidelines; whilst the All Blacks are almost certain to triumph in the fortress that is Eden Park, if they fail to claim the test series the New Zealand public will not forget his indiscretion in Wellington.

“the new zealand public will not forget his indiscretion”

His dismissal in the first half of the game was almost certainly the difference between the All Blacks winning and losing and he cut a dejected figure at the final whistle. With a four week ban forcing him out of the final test he will have to look on from the sidelines; whilst the All Blacks are almost certain to triumph in the fortress that is Eden Park, if they fail to claim the test series the New Zealand public will not forget his indiscretion in Wellington.

 

The Critics

It’s hard to be critical of anyone in the Lions camp after victory in the second test, and so the ire gets turned towards critics of the Lions- this tour and the concept altogether- instead. It is true that the Lions is in many ways an outdated concept yet that is undoubtedly what makes it so special. It has modernised remarkably in the last decade or so and the financial interest in the tour makes its continuation all the more likely. From a playing perspective, however, there is nothing quite like it, and whilst there have been contentious issues during this tour, to even be competitive in New Zealand- let alone win a test match- is a monumental achievement.

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Sport Editor for 2017-18