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Lions come home to hero’s welcome

Lions back after epic New Zealand tour


British and Irish Lions captain Sam Warburton returned to the United Kingdom on Wednesday from the Lions epic tour down under and massive drawn Test series with New Zealand with nothing but praise for his coach Warren Gatland. “Gatland is one of the best in the world,” said Warburton. The Test series ended with a dramatic 15-15 draw on Saturday. Hooker Ken Owens came off the bench to battle in two of the Lions' three Tests in New Zealand in 2017. The British and Irish Lions' drawn series in New Zealand could help Wales beat the All Blacks for the first time since 1953 said thirty-year-old Owens. Five Wales players started the British and Irish Lions drawn final Test in Auckland, New Zealand. Owens was one of two more Welsh players to come into the game as replacements. Owens hopes the experience the Wales players got against the titan New Zealand rugby team will be helpful when Wales host the All Blacks in Cardiff on 25 November in the upcoming Autumn Internationals. "I think it will help, going forward with Wales," said Owens. "A lot of players were key players in that victory and the draw, and I think we'll take huge confidence from that going into the autumn series. Hopefully, we'll get that monkey off our backs with Wales."

Lions Captain Sam Warburton reflected on the British and Irish Lions' drawn Test series in New Zealand. Warburton captained the Lions in New Zealand, and compatriots Alun Wyn Jones, Taulupe Faletau, Jonathan Davies and Liam Williams joined him in the starting XVs for the second and third Tests. Owens and scrum-half Rhys Webb each made two Test appearances from the bench. Scarlets hooker Owens captained the Lions against Super Rugby side, the Blues. Hooker Ken Owens pleaded with referee Romain Poite, who then changed his decision over a late penalty award in the Lions' third Test in what became Owens abiding memory of the tour. After losing the opening Test, the Lions leveled the series with a victory in Wellington before a 15-15 draw in Auckland meant the series ended 1-1. Late in the third Test, Owens handled the ball ahead of full-back Liam Williams after he knocked on as he tried to claim a high kick. Poite initially awarded a penalty in the tourists' 22 before changing it to a scrum, thanks in part to an emotional intervention from Lions captain Warburton.

"Captaining the Lions against the Blues was a huge moment for me," said Owens. "And Romain Poite getting the decision right in the third Test! That wouldn't have been great. For my rugby career to be defined by that moment, I would've been pretty upset. I think the right decision was made. I'm just glad it didn't come down to something like that to define the tour. There's plenty of memories, I've made lifelong friends and I think it won't quite sink in for months and years to come."

Match Report

British and Irish Lions draw 15-15 with New Zealand as series ends level at 1-1

Third Test, Auckland
New Zealand (12) 15
Tries: Laumape, J Barrett Pen: Barrett Con: Barrett
Lions (6) 15

Pens: Farrell 4, Daly 1 A long-range penalty three minutes from time from Owen Farrell earned a draw for the British and Irish Lions in an epic third Test. The mighty All Blacks led 12-6 at half-time through tries from Ngani Laumape and Jordie Barrett. But three penalties from Farrell and another from Elliot Daly from beyond halfway tied it up at 12-12 with only 20 minutes to go. With Jerome Kaino sin-binned and thousands of Lions supporters in the stands cheering them on, there was a great chance for the Lions to make even more history and win a series in New Zealand for only the second time in 100 years. Replacement prop Kyle Sinckler was penalized at a scrum on his own 22, Beauden Barrett kicked the penalty to make it 15-12, only for Owen Farrell to hit back with a confident effort of his own. Farrell kicked his fifth penalty with three minutes remaining to level the match and the series. Going into the frantic last minutes of the match neither side could score to win the match, when New Zealand almost had a chance, only for referee Romain Poite to controversially change a penalty decision to a scrum. When Lions replacement hooker Ken Owens handled the ball up-field of Liam Williams after the full-back had knocked on as he tried to claim a high kick under pressure from Kieran Read, Poite initially awarded a penalty in the tourists' 22 before changing it to a scrum.

Before the series began, the All Blacks were favored to win, and when they won the first Test the chance of a Lion’s victory dimmed. For the Lions to come back to share the spoils after all is a remarkable achievement. The All Blacks had not lost at Eden Park since 1994, and had not lost consecutive Test matches at home in 19 years. Jordie Barrett tapped back his brother's cross-kick to set up the opening try for Laumape, both men starting a Test for the first time. Barrett then ran on to Anton Lienert-Brown's flat pass for the second try after Laumape's brilliant off-load. Beauden Barrett missed a kickable penalty and conversion, the Lions staying in touch through Farrell's boot. Kaino was yellow-carded for a forearm to the face of Alun Wyn Jones on 49 minutes and the score at 12-9. But the French official then reviewed it and called it instead as an accidental offside, and from the subsequent scrum the Lions then almost broke away themselves.

"It should have been a penalty to the All Blacks at the death. Romain Poite has done the Lions a huge favor there,” said Ex-Wales and Lions flanker Martyn Williams. "Whether he's bottled it, only he knows. You very rarely see a referee change his decision. We'll be talking about this for about 100 years. It was an unbelievable Test match but if the All Blacks had had a goal kicker in the last two Tests, they would have won, but in a few weeks it will be a moral victory for the Lions." Ex-England and Lions scrum-half Matt Dawson talked about the French referee’s decision.

"Ken Owens was in front of Liam Williams, he went to play the ball, then took his hands away. That was a sign he'd made a massive error, that was a penalty,” said Dawson. "Both sides were tremendous today. There will be some really disappointed Lions players out there." Lions captain Sam Warburton said, "I thought it would have been harsh for either side to lose." New Zealand captain Kieran Read was not pleased with the result.  "I feel pretty hollow,” said Read. “To walk away with a draw doesn't mean much. But in the future I will look back at this with pride. My view is that it was a penalty for offside at the end, he ruled it correctly from the start. But that isn't why we didn't win the game, it was an accumulation of all things throughout."

Lions 2017 coach Warren Gatland wore a clown nose to the post-match press conference in response to a cartoon published with his image. "Given the schedule, given how tough the tour was, to come to New Zealand and get a draw you've got to be proud of that,” said Gatland. "I thought it was a penalty to us, Kieran Read jumped in and he's hit the player in the air. In fairness Sam Warburton has been able to talk the man in the middle into giving an accidental offside." New Zealand boss Steve Hansen talked about the result after the draw. 

"We all know what happened and we all know what probably should have happened. It's a decision the ref has made and we will live with it,” said New Zealand manager Steve Hansen. "It's come down to the wire and we've ended up with one hand on the trophy each, which is a bit like kissing your sister. But it's been a wonderful advertisement for rugby." Man of the match is Jonathan Davies. Lions captain Sam Warburton and tour totem Maro Itoje were outstanding, but the outside centre Davies was both menacing in attack and remorseless in defence. Davies hit on Jordie Barrett was the tackle of the match and his kicking was almost perfect.

Squads

Lions

Liam Williams (Wales); Anthony Watson (England), Jonathan Davies (Wales), Owen Farrell (England), Elliot Daly (England); Johnny Sexton (Ireland), Conor Murray (Ireland); Mako Vunipola (England), Jamie George (England) Tadhg Furlong (Ireland), Maro Itoje (England), Alun Wyn Jones (Wales) Sam Warburton (capt, Wales), Sean O'Brien (Ireland), Taulupe Faletau (Wales) Subs: Ken Owens (Wales), Jack McGrath (Ireland), Kyle Sinckler (England), Courtney Lawes (England), CJ Stander (Ireland), Rhys Webb (Wales), Ben Te'o (England), Jack Nowell (England)

New Zealand

Jordie Barrett; Israel Dagg, Anton Lienert-Brown, Ngani Laumape, Julian Savea; Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith; Joe Moody, Codie Taylor, Owen Franks, Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock, Jerome Kaino, Sam Cane, Kieran Read. Subs: Nathan Harris, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Scott Barrett, Ardie Savea, TJ Perenara, Aaron Cruden, Malakai Fekitoa.

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