2 Jul 2017

SBW answers Lions legend's plea

12:50 pm on 2 July 2017

Opinion - On Friday, the day before the test match, my rugby club in Wellington hosted a British & Irish Lions supporters tour group.

It was a big day for Poneke FC out in Kilbirnie, around 600 British people came through the doors and drank an awful lot of beer.

Sonny Bill Williams after being shown the red card by referee Jerome Garces.

Sonny Bill Williams after being shown the red card by referee Jerome Garces. Photo: Photosport

The group was headed by Scottish rugby legend Gavin Hastings. While I hadn't had such a great time the last time the Lions won a test match in New Zealand before last night, it'd probably rank close to number one on his list of career achievements. To honour him, we pulled up a full replay of the game and played it on the big screen.

He was given the mic in front of the large and cheerful crowd that was packed into the newly refurbished clubrooms. He said what a wonderful occasion it was and then addressed the locals directly.

"We've come down here to make friends, to watch some rugby and most importantly for you lot, spend a lot of money!" he said.

"So there's just one thing you have to do in return - you have to let us win tomorrow night!"

Everyone laughed, especially us. This test was going to be a breeze. It might be a bit closer, these Lions were playing a bit better than we thought, but the result was out of the question.

Lion's captain Gavin Hastings and All Black captain Sean Fitzpatrick hold up the shield after the rugby union test match between the British Lions and the All Blacks, 1993.

Lions' captain Gavin Hastings with his All Black counterpart Sean Fitzpatrick in 1993. Photo: Photosport

I don't know for sure (he's not the sort of guy that can be particularly inconspicuous), but I don't think Sonny Bill Williams was at the clubrooms listening to Gavin's plea. However, his shoulder charge on Anthony Watson and subsequent red card went a long way to doing just what the big Scotsman had in mind.

Not even the staunchest All Black fan could argue with that call, despite the fact that the ref was pedantic Frenchman Jerome Garces. Not even the staunchest Sonny Bill Williams fan - I should know, I'm one of them - could make a case for it not being one of the dumbest things ever done in an All Black jersey. The reaction at the ground was, apart from the howls of outrage from the sprawling sea of red in the crowd, a collective transferring of heads into hands.

The shoulder charge that led to Sonny Bill Williams' red card.

The shoulder charge that led to Sonny Bill Williams' red card. Photo: PhotoSport

It meant the All Blacks also lost Jerome Kaino, with debutant Ngani Laumape coming on to fill the shortfall in the backs. This couldn't have been a better outcome for the Lions, getting rid of a main enforcer as well as the offloading ability of Williams.

As far as handing the best possible way for the Lions to achieve victory is concerned, the All Blacks couldn't have done a better job. Especially when Beauden Barrett's goal kicking yips showed up and he started missing the posts. The backs were flat and unable to get through the Lions defence, ironically Laumape looked like the only one who could.

Even still, the All Blacks made the Lions work hard for their 24-21 win. Despite having the one-man advantage, the tourists couldn't get the ball anywhere near the tryline till deep into the second half.

They got there in the end, and made pretty hard work of it. They'll have to improve next week, because it's highly unlikely the All Blacks are going to be in such a charitable mood again.

Gavin Hastings knows what it's like to win in Wellington, and he's probably nursing a sore head right now from celebrating last night just like he did back in 1993. However, he also knows what it's like to go to Eden Park a week later and run into an All Black team with a point to prove.

Jamie Wall grew up in Wellington and enjoyed a stunningly mediocre rugby career in which the single highlight was a seat on the bench for his club's premier side. He's enjoyed far more success spouting his viewpoints on the game, and other topics, to anyone who'll care to listen.

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