10 Jul 2017

Long live the Lions - the moments that made the tour

9:26 am on 10 July 2017

RNZ rugby reporter Joe Porter has been tailing the Lions throughout the North Island: from Rotorua to Hamilton, Auckland and Wellington - and back to Auckland for Saturday's shock final result.

He takes his turn in the interview seat to share the most memorable moments from his month on the road.

Left to right: Sonny Bill Williams is sent off with a red card, Warren Gatland has the last laugh, a Lions fan in Wellington

Left to right: Sonny Bill Williams is sent off with a red card, Warren Gatland has the last laugh, and a Lions fan in Wellington Photo: Photosport

3-0, eh? What do you have to say for yourself?

Egg on my face! A drawn test series - I don't think many people would have expected that. Probably even less expected than a Lions win. No-one saw it coming and, while you might say it's a fitting result for what happened, I think it leaves everyone feeling like we'd like one more test.

I got the first one: the exact score and the exact result. The second one, I got the right score but the wrong winner. The third one - I thought the All Blacks would win by 12 or 13 points, somewhere around 28-15. And it ended up being 15-all.

Thinking about it, it was always going to be a World Cup final-type atmosphere. That does bring the scores down typically.

Most surprising moment?

The red card to Sonny Bill Williams in the second test, in Wellington, just turned the whole tour on its head. In the media box, the reaction was 'oh, s***, we've got a game on our hands now'.

Sonny Bill Williams is red carded by referee Jerome Garces. New Zealand All Blacks v British and Irish Lions. 2nd Rugby union test match. Westpac Stadium, Wellington, New Zealand. Saturday 1 July 2017.

Sonny Bill Williams is sent off by Jérôme Garcès during the second test. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Everyone was suddenly much more engaged because it seemed like the Lions had a chance.

The Lions fans started to believe, the Lions players started to believe. And once they got that win under their belt, they had a puncher's chance at winning their first test series here since 1971.

Best fan encounter?

You can't go past the Lions fans. They're just incredible: the amount of energy they have and passion for the series and love for New Zealand.

I bumped into a guy called Trevor who was staying in the same hotel as the Māori All Blacks in Rotorua when the Lions were there. He joked about how his crew of about 40 middle-aged men and women from the UK were going to stay up all night, partying and singing their songs as loud as they could, to make sure their team's opponents were bleary eyed for the test match.

Captains Kieran Read and Sam Warburton 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, left, and Sam Warburton hold the test series trophy aloft after the unexpected draw. Photo: Photosport

You come across people who have come to New Zealand with nowhere to stay, no accommodation booked, on a wing and a prayer, yet the Adopt A Lions Fan Facebook page has come through and they've managed to find accommodation in every city they've been in.

Best hospitality - as experienced by the media?

I missed out on the best one. I didn't go to Christchurch, where the Lions played the Crusaders, which was apparently the best media dinner. They served Canterbury homegrown lamb and they had a special surprise at halftime with some nice hot pumpkin soup, which was brought up to the media, who were sitting outside in some fairly chilly temperatures.

Best play?

The best play would probably have come from some of the All Blacks' debutants this tour.

Jordie Barrett and Ngani Laumape were playing their first test starts on Saturday, just their second ever tests. They were momentous. They stood up to the occasion, they were assured, confident, composed and they didn't put a foot wrong.

Rieko Ioane, in his first test start, in Wellington, scored two tries against the Lions.

Rieko Ioane after scoring his second try, celebrating with TJ Perenara.

Rieko Ioane, right, after scoring his second try, celebrates with TJ Perenara. Photo: PhotoSport

Worst moment?

The worst moment of the tour was probably when Lions tour manager John Spencer was accosted by some drunk New Zealand fans while he was at a restaurant in Auckland. There was almost a slight physical altercation before the drunk patron was forced out by the restaurant.

Spencer, being the gentleman that he is, took it on the chin and was very gracious about it.

I don't think it sits with most of what the Lions fans, players and coaches have experienced on this tour. They've been welcomed with open arms and have even had Kiwi supporters cheering for them, in the second game, because they've just loved the Lions and what they bring.

But it was a blight on New Zealand's hospitality that he was attacked like that with his family.

And the last laugh goes to...

Warren Gatland was mocked a bit by the New Zealand Herald with a cartoon of him as a clown ahead of the second test.

They'd already done it with Michael Cheika, the Wallabies coach, last year, and they couldn't resist doing it a second time after Gatland made some fairly brash comments, about the All Blacks cheating and other things.

A television host holds up a newspaper with an image of British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland depicted as a clown before their rugby union match against the Wellington Hurricanes at Westpac Stadium in Wellington on June 27, 2017.

A broadcaster holds up a copy of the cartoon ahead of the Lions' clash against the Hurricanes in Wellington. Photo: AFP

Of course, Gatland has had the last laugh. He's drawn a series in New Zealand - and almost won one, which would have been the first time they'd managed it since 1971. He's been totally vindicated in all the decisions he's made.

He wandered into the news conference last night, after drawing that test series, wearing an actual red clown nose, in full view for everyone to look at, before quickly taking it off and smiling to the waiting reporters, who had a quick giggle among themselves.

Gatland obviously has a bit of a sense of humour in him. He didn't mind being portrayed as a clown, but he certainly fired a shot right back last night.

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