Lions beat 14-man New Zealand 24-21 in 2nd test
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The British and Irish Lions leveled the three-test series against New Zealand with a 24-21 win in the second test Saturday, after the All Blacks played 55 minutes with 14 men following a red card for center Sonny Bill Williams for a reckless shoulder charge.
Owen Farrell kicked the winning penalty with four minutes remaining to send the teams to Eden Park in Auckland next weekend with the series at 1-1.
Williams became the first All Black to be sent off in a test for 50 years when he was shown a red card by French referee Jerome Garces in the 25th minute for his no-arms tackle on Lions winger Anthony Watson. Watson left the field for a concussion test but returned to see out the match.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said "losing sucks" but didn't dispute the red card.
"A red card is a red card if the ref says it's a red card and we don't have any say in it," he said. "There's no point whining about it.
"Sonny didn't use his arms so put himself at risk and he made contact with young Anthony's head which put him at risk."
With New Zealand under-manned, the Lions scored second-half tries through backrower Taulupe Faletau and scrumhalf Conor Murray to level the scores, canceling out seven penalties to All Blacks flyhalf Beauden Barrett, who missed three other shots at goal.
Farrell then stepped up to kick the winning goal for a dangerous tackle by replacement prop Charlie Faumuina and to keep alive the Lions' hopes of their first series win in New Zealand for 46 years and only their second in 13 attempts. Saturday's victory was their first in a test in New Zealand since 1993.
"At 18-9 down we had to show courage and character - and we did that," Lions coach Warren Gatland said. "We got ourselves out of a hole and a win for us keeps the series alive."
However, Gatland also acknowledged the impact of New Zealand having to play with 14 men.
"The Sonny Bill Williams red card was significant but it's one of those things," Gatland said. "He led in with the shoulder and the referee thought he had no choice.
"It was a significant loss to the All Blacks in terms of a key person, but the referee has made that call."
The match will be remembered for many things; the character of a Lions team with its back to the wall, the monumental effort of an All Blacks team which played so long with one man short. But history will likely record it as the match in which Williams was sent off.
A convert from rugby league where such tackles are commonplace, Williams was the first All Black since Colin Meads in 1967 to be dismissed in a test and the first-ever in a test match at home.
Though New Zealand's players strove to hold out the Lions, defending with ferocity for most of the second half, they were eventually overrun. The Lions produced two superb tries, while leaving the All Blacks try-less - another historical rarity. Barrett kicked seven penalties but missed three more which might have been vital in a match decided by a small margin.
When Williams left, New Zealand radically reorganized its lineup, removing blindside flanker Jerome Kaino to leave its forward pack one-man short, and replacing him with center Ngani Laumape on his test debut.
The Lions were lucky not to be reduced to 14 men when prop Mako Vunipola's late and dangerous tackle on Barrett in the 54th minute. Barrett got up and kicked the resulting penalty to give New Zealand a 15-9 lead; its first lead of more than three points in the match at that stage.
Vunipola was shown a yellow card two minutes for another challenge on Barrett as he lay unprotected at a ruck and, for 10 minutes, the teams were on terms with 14-men apiece.
The match, which was rain-drenched in the first half and dry in the second, saw the score progress in increments of three points as Barrett and Owen Farrell engaged in a duel of penalties before Faletau scored the game's first try.
The Lions had little possession even with their numerical advantage and it cost them the chance to put pressure on a reduced All Blacks defense. But that changed in the 60th minute when they received a promising possession on attack. The Lions first probed through the speedy Watson down the right flank, and then shifted the ball wide on the left to Faletau, who outflanked a stretched defense.
Eight minutes later, Murray scored and the Lions found themselves level with the All Blacks but playing with renewed vigor and momentum. Hooker Jamie George made a telling burst through the defense inside the 22 and when the Lions quickly recycled possession, Murray darted around a ruck and stretched full-length to score.
After winning the first test in Auckland 30-15, the All Blacks will be looking for another victory to maintain their long record of success at home. Another Frenchman, Romain Poite, will referee the third test.