9 Jul 2017

UK media react: Brothers in arms after 'roar draw'

8:59 am on 9 July 2017

OPINION: The fans in red didn't know whether to laugh or cry at last night's nail-biting series draw - and neither did the UK media.

Captains Kieran Read and Sam Warburton shake hands after the drawn test and series.
3rd rugby union test match. New Zealand All Blacks versus the British and Irish Lions. Eden Park, Auckland, New Zealand. Saturday 8 July 2017.

Captains Kieran Read and Sam Warburton shake hands after the drawn test and series at Auckland's Eden Park on Saturday. Photo: Photosport

Everyone's a winner. Sort of. But perhaps rugby itself was the real hero. Players from both sides mingling on the stage after this epic test, brilliant ambassadors for the game. Warriors and gentlemen all.

After a titanic battle, the Lions and the All Blacks could not be separated: 15-15. No one knew whether to laugh or cry, and neither did the media.

"There aren't many matches of so much significance which end with no celebration, at all," blogged the Guardian. "It's a rather weird and anti-climactic finish and yet somehow it feels about right, both teams utterly drained but unbeaten."

"A match of drama and a drawn series of real heart and soul, an elemental contest that went right to the wire," said the Telegraph.

"It is the most unusual of results, unsatisfactory in some ways, but a tribute to the endeavours of all these players, a union of equals."

And that sort of summed it up across the back pages. A brilliant series, that ended - per the oft-quoted Jonathan Davies - with one hell of a match.

Wales Online ("yes," it said of the result, "you read that right"]) stuck with their boy: "Davies said afterwards he wasn't sure if he was supposed to get ready for extra time or if that was it."

There will be talk of that over the coming days, and Beauden Barrett's tuppence (he would like to have seen extra time, "100 percent") got plenty of column inches. As did referee Romain Poite's decision to rescind the late penalty awarded against Ken Owens, though the coverage unsurprisingly dwelt on the Kiwi reaction. A "French farce" would be putting it politely.

But Saturday was about savouring the moment, the dinky-di, ding-dong battle, even if the outcome was not the one anticipated (as the Sun saw it, a "roar draw").

History beckoned, said the Irish Times, but this was not quite the history people had expected. "After 12 years of waiting, a tour of six weeks and 10 matches culminating in an epic three-match test series, there was to be no winner." Try explaining that to the Seppos.

"It's the first tied test series between these sides, and the first Lions one since 1955 in South Africa. In truth, to match the All Blacks over three tests is arguably the mightier achievement, all the more so as they looked down and out after the first test and at times in this one. Their resilience, spirit, willingness to dig deep for each other, was remarkable."

Warren Gatland did not need reminding, and everyone went large on his post-match comments. He was, he said, really proud of the boys who represented their four home countries brilliantly as tourists.

"If you'd said six weeks ago come to NZ and draw a test series, we'd probably take that. They threw everything at us, and we hung in there."

The same could be said of the coach, whose arrival at the presser wearing a clown nose had them falling about the aisles. Touché.

Been that sort of night, the Mirror's man tweeted. "Not so clownish now, is he," quipped the Telegraph, referring to the stinging criticism Gatland has at times faced in the land of the long white cloud.

British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland wears a red nose during a press conference after the third rugby union Test match between the British and Irish Lions and New Zealand

Warren Gatland arrives at the news conference wearing a red clown nose in a nod to a New Zealand Herald cartoon earlier in the series. Photo: AFP

"He has led his squad to an impressive and unexpected record in the test series of P3 W1 L1 D1 against the All Blacks and comes away from the tour with his reputation enhanced." And wanting more.

According to the Scotsman, Gatland has admitted he would relish a rematch at Twickenham in November.

So bring it on. But for now we would do well to remember the unusual scene of skippers Sam Warburton and Kieran Read lifting the trophy.

As the Independent put it: "As they lifted the trophy, together, Read and Warburton nodded in agreement. They had been through so much. 'I said it was going to be an epic battle,' Warburton recounted, and it was. Oh it was."

Mick Reid is an Australian journalist who has called Old Blighty home for too long. A late convert to the oval ball game, he has worked at the past three Rugby World Cups and considers himself a neutral - of sorts.

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