Anticlimax it may have been, but it was hard to argue that the outcome — both the final Test at Eden Park and the All Blacks vs. Lions series as a whole — was anything but fair. As the dust settles, we run the numbers to look at where the 1-1 draw fits into Lions heritage.
1 previous Lions party had drawn a series — the 1955 team in South Africa, whose achievement of a 2-2 draw in spite of losing the final match 22-8 broke more than half a century of unbroken serious defeats and earned a permanent place in history as one of the finest Lions teams.
1 drop-goal has been landed by the Lions in 16 Tests during the 21st century. Stephen Jones’ 35th-minute effort at Pretoria in 2009, giving the tourists a 15-6 lead in a match they eventually lost 28-25, is the only Lions drop since Jeremy Guscott’s immortal series-clincher in South Africa 12 years earlier. Rob Andrew kicked the last one in New Zealand during the second Test victory in 1993.
1 Lions team has returned winless during the professional era. That Clive Woodward’s overwhelmed visitors to New Zealand in 2005 are the only team of six not to have won a Test compares well with the period between 1903 and 1993 when eight of the 18 teams to play a series in South Africa or New Zealand failed to win. Two — in New Zealand in 1966 and 1983, were whitewashed, but the four teams who came back from South Africa without a win managed at least one draw, the men of 1903 drawing the first two before losing the final Test.
2 Tests between the Lions and All Blacks at Eden Park have been drawn, equalling the single-ground record previously held by Ellis Park, Johannesburg where the 1962 Lions drew 3-3 thanks to a try by Llanelli centre Ken Jones and the 1974 team narrowly failed in its quest for a perfect tour record, held 13-13 by the Boks.
2 matches undefeated by the Lions — their current run — equals their all-time best in New Zealand, set by the 1971 team who also won and drew the last two Tests of their series.
2 Test tries have been scored for the Lions by current active leader George North, who’ll have been disappointed not to add to that tally in New Zealand. At 25 there is no reason, provided that worrying run of head injuries does not continue, why he should not get another shot in South Africa in 2021, although Tony O’Reilly and JJ Williams’ joint all-time record of six looks ever more formidable.
3 Lions teams have won in Wellington, the second Test triumph on this tour emulating victories at the old Athletic Park ground in 1971 and 1993, making the capital unquestionably their favourite New Zealand venue. They have won more Tests, nine, in Sydney than anywhere else and the Sydney Cricket Ground, with six wins in eight visits, has the single-ground record. But Brisbane remains unquestionably their favourite city, with an 8-0 record spread across four different venues — the Exhibition Ground, Woolloongabba, Lang Park and Ballymore — and 114 years.
3 Tests is the most played by any Lion with a 100 percent winning record. Of the 15 to achieve this, 14 went on pioneering tours in the 1890s, making the record of tough Gloucester and England back-rower Mike Teague — who played in the two victories against Australia in 1989 and the win over the All Blacks at Wellington in 1993 — one of the game’s modern wonders
4 Lions vs. All Blacks Tests have now been drawn. The two Eden Park deciders of 1971 and 2017 follow on from the 9-9 at Carisbrook, featuring perhaps the finest individual performance of Jack Kyle’s matchless career, in the first Test of the 1950 series and 3-3 at Wellington bracketed by two hammerings on the 1908 tour. The Lions have drawn six times in South Africa, never against Australia and once in the pre-tour Test against Argentina in Cardiff in 2005.
5 defeats have been inflicted on the Lions since 1950 by Otago, making them the only regular opponent other than the All Blacks to have a winning record [5-3] against the tourists over that period. This year’s win follows a hat trick in 1950, 1959 and 1966 followed by a further win in 1993. Given that Southland [1950 and 1966] and Canterbury [1959 and 1983] are two of the other three teams — Auckland [three times] the other — to have achieved this more than once since the war and the Lions record at Lancaster Park (see 9), the NZRU must surely schedule a South Island Test when the Lions return in 2029.
5 Test appearances without a win is the melancholy Lions record shared by Welsh hooker Gethin Jenkins, who suffered five straight defeats in New Zealand and South Africa in 2005 and 2009 but missed the final Test victory over the Boks, and 1968 Lions captain Tom Kiernan. The Irishman at least managed one draw — the second Test of that series at Port Elizabeth. Kiernan scored 35 of the 38 points recorded by the Lions in those matches, the rest supplied by a try from his long-term Ireland teammate Willie John McBride.
6 Test appearances before you have as many caps as initials is the Lions record held — one suspects in perpetuity — by Makovina Wanangarua I Whanga Nui-Atara Vunipola, aka Mako.
9 Test defeats have been inflicted on the Lions in Auckland, more than any other city. The first Test loss was their eighth at Eden Park, where the only victory was the brilliant three tries to nil, 9-6 consolation win by Ronnie Dawson’s team in 1959. Their first visit was the unhappiest of the lot — the 29-0, nine tries to nil, inflicted on the hapless 1908 party at the old Potter’s Park ground. The ninth Auckland loss broke a previous tie with Cape Town, where the Lions have also won four times, and Christchurch, whose much-missed Lancaster Park ranks clearly as their least favourite venue with only a single win in 9 visits.
11 penalties landed by Beauden Barrett in the 2017 series equalled the record for a series against the Lions set by Matt Burke for Australia in 2001, even if he was — to the tourists’ profound relief — slightly off his stroke in the second and third Tests.
17 Lions Tests played by Willie John McBride is probably now as unassailable a record as Wilfred Rhodes’ 4,187 first-class wickets, Cy Young’s 513 wins in major league baseball and Dixie Dean’s 60 goals in a single First Division season. McBride’s 12-year span saw five Lions tours including one, 1966 to New Zealand and Australia, where six Tests were played and four more with four. It is not inconceivable that Maro Itoje could return to New Zealand in 2029, when he will be 34. But even if he plays every Test between now and then and all three on that trip, the most he’ll be able to manage without more or longer tours — neither likely — is 12.
20 years will have passed without a Scot starting a Lions Test by the time they visit South Africa in 2021. Prop Tom Smith, who played all three in Australia in 2001, was the last. That’s far too long for any of the four partners to be marginalised, and a personal guess is both that Scots will be represented when the Lions face the Boks in 2021 and that Gregor Townsend has a very decent shot at being the coach.
21.95 percent is now the Lions all-time success rate in New Zealand from seven wins, four draws and 30 defeats in 41 matches, up from 19.74 percent before Warren Gatland’s men set off.
41 victories is the all-time Lions total, compared to 59 defeats and 11 draws from 111 matches.
42.10 percent is the Lions success rate in the professional era, with seven wins, two draws and 10 defeats since 1997. That pushes just above the all-time 41.89 percent mark by virtue of the draw against Argentina. Take that out and their record from matches on tour drops just below, to 41.67 percent.
45 tries have been scored by the Lions in their 41 Tests in New Zealand, while the second of Rieko Ioane’s two in the first Test at Auckland was the 100th scored against them by the All Blacks, who finished the series on 102
46 years have passed since the Lions beat the All Blacks anywhere other than Wellington. That was the 9-3 win in the opening Test at Dunedin in 1971, thanks to Iain McLauchlan’s charge-down try, two penalties from Barry John and some heroic defence.
49 years have passed since the Lions drew a Test which was not the final match of a series. That was in 1968 when Tom Kiernan’s team, already one down, drew 6-6 with the Springboks in the second Test at Port Elizabeth, with Kiernan’s two penalties matching those by outside-half Piet Visagie and lock Tiny Naude. The 2005 match against Argentina was a one-off, and not on tour, while the draws in New Zealand in 1971 and 2017 and South Africa in 1974 were all final Tests.
50 percent is Alun Wyn Jones’s success rate with the Lions from four wins, four defeats and a draw in his nine Tests. This is matched by only Gareth Edwards, with five wins, three draws and two defeats in his 10 matches — a 65 percent rate — among the seven men who have played more often.
62 is the age at which Brodie Retallick would, if current scheduling patterns remain and he played in every All Black Test against the Lions, equal Colin Meads’ all-time record of 11 Test appearances against the Lions, suggesting strongly that Meads will remain in the record books in perpetuity alongside his cherished rival Willie John McBride.
67 Test points from Jonny Wilkinson remains the all-time Lions career record, of which 20 were scored against Argentina at Cardiff, so Gavin Hastings remains the on-tour leader with 66. Leigh Halfpenny was unable to add to the 49 he scored in Australia in 2013, so the likeliest threat to Wilkinson and Hastings looks to be Owen Farrell who has now scored 31 points and, at 25, has every reason to hope that he’ll make another tour.
97.45 percent is Wyatt Crockett’s success rate from the 59 Tests he has played against everybody other than the Lions, with 57 wins, one draw and a single defeat. Against the Lions it is 50 percent.
2113 is the earliest that the Lions can achieve parity with New Zealand in the all-time head-to-head record, assuming that the current rhythm of a three-Test series every 12 years is maintained and the Lions win every Test between now and then.