You Win Some; You Lose Some. But a Lions Series Draw–Failure or Victory

New Zealand v British & Irish Lions
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Last Word on Rugby, by Scott Hornell.

You Win Some; You Lose Some.

The old saying has rung true, after the 15-15 result last night. But a Lions Series Draw–is it considered a Failure? Or a Victory for the challenges?

Both sides will have pushed themselves hard. Each were blessed with some of the finest talents in all of the rugby world. The best of the United Kingdom were represented in the British and Irish Lions. Like New Zealand, who include the best available players from five Super Rugby franchises.

So a drawn series. Many will wake Sunday and ask, was that failure or victory? Has the home side been bested? And while most accept the result, a minority might argue referee calls or handling errors that ‘could have been’.

New Zealand 15 – Tries: Ngani Laumape, Jordie Barrett; Conversion: Beauden Barrett; Penalty: Barrett

British and Irish Lions 15 – Penalties: Owen Farrell (4), Elliot Daly.

On social media, the match; and the whole series, are taking center stage. Some are praising the game–saying that the environment and festivities from host and visitor, are good for the sports image. None should argue that, as the behaviour by fan and sports man have been superb.

So how to judge the outcome of a draw? In terms of the sport [type] ball sports are more often decried for this common result. Football is all to often the victim of slanderous calls for an outcome at the point of a draw. Their solution; for any championship game, is for extra time primarily. Allow each side a time to rectify the quandary.

Could the Two Sides Have Played Extra Time?

Over a beer, many fans will retort “tjat game needed a clear winner. Can’t we play extra time? why don’t we play a fourth test?”

NZ Rugby chief executive Steve Tew was absolute, that no extra conditions or terms were written-in to compensate for a drawn series.

So at the conclusion of 80 minutes, with the series on the line, unfortunately the officials had no option available. That is only applicable to a grand final or in a tournament.

In general, ball sports playing a series, will not have such conditions available. And so, the DHL Lions Series concluded with no clear winner. However if you look closely at the statistics and points amounted, there are some key performance indicators (KPI).

Main Points Taken From DHL Lions Series

Look closely at the above statistics (courtesy of OPTA/NZ Rugby) and the evidence is leaning toward the home team. Not conclusive, and in performance KPI, not every factor is described on this sheet of paper. But the higher points taker, the side with the least missed tackles/turnovers or best territorial advantage seem good evidence. All numbers that favour the home side.

But what about discipline? Could the team who suffered the least penalties or offences, be considered the more worthy? Some will agree, as the men in black were handed a red card, and one yellow card–the Lions have the moral superiority. However, total penalties conceded were not in their favour. So is quantity vs quality (or in this case, severity) matter more? Did the red card mean anymore? A harsh reality, in a game where kicking/penalties became a factor.

Others will contend that the matches were lost in other ways, due to missed kicks and missed opportunities. The All Blacks head coach yesterday noted that “at the end of the day, as little kids we are taught to take the good with the bad. And we have to do that.

“So we are accepting of whatever decisions are made….whether we agree with them or not.” A healthy attitude, as referee calls, or decisions on tackles made, or even of kicks that should have gone over, are in the past. The result stands.

A Draw Could be Seen as Failure

Ruthlessly, observers from outside the groups of teams, have two views. Success or failure. The degrees of that may alter: with a ridiculous failure being a 3-0 drubbing, or incredible success being a 0-3 margin.

The gravity of the wins and losses can assist the call. And while even a ‘red clowns nose’ can make fun at the mid-tour cries of a whitewash, Lions head coach Warren Gatland cannot hide from the glare of rugby commentators. *the red nose was classic tongue-in-cheek gag though.

“Given the schedule, given how tough the tour was, to have come to New Zealand and drawn the series, we’d be pretty proud of that.”

Attempting to be positive, yet Gatland will probably cop a lot of the criticism for early decisions of the tour. Some which were relative to player fitness and rotation. Others were perplexing; when he was undermined for his decision to bring in replacements–and then opted not to use the bench, in a strange selection policy.

Those will be called failures. Even the opening game, where he ran out a starting side who appeared jet legged, some who were told prior to leaving England, that they would start. That did not motivate them, and the result almost cost the opening game.

On his arrival in England, or in Cardiff, the pack will have both negatives and positives to discuss.

Series Results Were Mixed, But Improving Steadily

Not all reactions have been bad. With five wins and two draws, the mix of results pointed toward improvement. After losing the first test, the two drawn games could be perceived as failures. But gladly, the emotional component will always provide a level of fan satisfaction.

The 20,000 or so fans who descended on New Zealand will mostly be happy. They arrived, enjoyed the country, wine and beer. Plenty of beer! But some rugby commentators are also happy to publicly support the sides tour.

Robert Kitson of The Guardian wrote “Finishing on level terms with the double world champions on the planet’s most hostile rugby terrain, with scant preparation time and a ridiculously tough schedule, will increasingly feel like a moral victory the longer they reflect on it.”

Oliver Holt of the Daily Mail agreed. “When the end came, the 15-15 draw felt like an anti-climax but that won’t last. Because in this case, a drawn series against the best team in the world in New Zealand, where most of their unbeaten records are counted not in years but in decades, represents a Herculean achievement from a team that was only assembled six weeks ago and which represented a concept fighting for its very survival.

Gatland may not see eye-to-eye with the media. He might find the English press hard to satisfy, and the local press hard to understand. Yet he is in a similar position to Steve Hansen. The men they coach play the game. When the whistle is blown, the coaches accept the Lions Series draw result, and have learned to ‘roll with the punches’.

What the All Blacks can fall back on–as they have done for over 30 years–is that their stronghold, is still intact.

Eden Park Record Still Intact

While the 2017 DHL Lions Series was not secured, one proud record still stands. Unbeaten at the ‘fortress’ of Eden Park, a draw will retain that theater.

While South Africa, and now the Lions have equaled the home side, no others have defeated them. It is as if, the Auckland ground is hallowed ground. So while Steve Hansen will remorse a lost opportunity, he can be content that the record is still intact.

And both sides will take the positives away from this result. The All Blacks won the opening match 30-15, in a classic ‘NZ rugby’ style. Then a reversal of fortune aided the tourists visit. They broke the home sides undefeated home record [since 2009] and the 21-24 scoreline showed how the place kick was worth as much; if not more, than a try.

So as some consider a draw to be ‘like kissing your Sister’ others will say it has positives:
  • Good defense that denied the other a runaway scoreline
  • Man-on-man, the sides were fairly well matched. No one player dominated the other
  • Both captains showed a respect for the game, and both now will be shown respect for their post game display of ‘rugbyunited’ values
  • Commentators heaped praise on each side for playing a positive brand of rugby

You Win Some; You Lose Some. One Win a Piece!

From the outside, the Lions series draw is not what anyone will have planned. The action on the field was of a high quality. Many of the players had tremendous affect on the outcome; Kieran Read, Maro Itoje, Rieko Ioane or Toby Faletau.

And to be fair, with all the quality, the fierce contest is likely to have negated the other sides effectiveness. An indication of this is the New Zealand team usually average over 30 points in their last six years of contest. In the Lions series draw, only 22. And that might be glossing over how difficult the opposition were.

So full credit, where credit is due.