WELLINGTON – A late Owen Farrell penalty earned the British and Irish Lions a pulsating 24-21 victory over the 14-man All Blacks on Saturday to send the three-Test series to a decider next week.
After New Zealand centre Sonny Bill Williams was sent off for a shoulder-charge in the first half, the Lions scored two second-half tries before Farrell kicked the winning points on 77 minutes.
It is the first time the All Blacks have lost a game on home soil since 2009.
The Lions scored the only tries of the match, with Taulupe Faletau and Conor Murray crossing the line in a tense second half as they clawed their way back into the game after trailing 18-9 with 20 minutes to play.
New Zealand played with a man down for 55 minutes after Williams was red-carded for his shoulder charge to the head of Anthony Watson – the All Blacks’ first red card in 50 years.
In the heated encounter, a must-win for the Lions after last week’s 30-15 defeat, they also went a player down in the second half when prop Mako Vunipola was yellow-carded for a late challenge.
When the final whistle blew and the smoke cleared, the Lions celebrated to a roar from the sea of red-clad fans in the stand, while the All Blacks went into a close-knit huddle.
Just as the All Blacks out-foxed the Lions in the first Test with a tactical switch to play close to the ruck, it was the Lions this time who opened up with the close forward game where Sam Warburton, restored as captain, relished the intensely physical battle.
Yet for all their dominance in the opening 15 minutes, the Lions managed to engineer their own misfortune through a knock-on by Maro Itoje, a dropped pass by Jonathan Davies and a forward pass from Johnny Sexton, all at times when the All Blacks were scrambling to defend.
It was left to kickers Barrett and Farrell to provide the early points from penalties.
After a tight first 25 minutes, the game took on a new shape when Williams, singled out before the Test by the Lions as the All Blacks’ dangerman, was sensationally shown the red card for his shoulder charge to the head of Watson, who later returned to the field.
Vunipola later received his yellow-card for a similar charge on Barrett.
When Williams departed, the score was 3-3 in the rain and swirling wind at Westpac Stadium.
The All Blacks were forced to sacrifice blindside flank Jerome Kaino to introduce debutant Ngani Laumape to keep the backline numbers up.
By halftime, with Barrett and Farrell trading further penalties, the score remained delicately poised at 9-9.
But as the game progressed in the second half, the All Blacks took the direct approach, running from depth on to the ball as they cranked up the physicality to crash headlong into the Lions.
It did not bring tries, but it drew enough penalties that even though Barrett had an off-night with the boot, he was able to push the All Blacks out to an 18-9 lead, before the effort of playing with a man down began to show.
The Lions’ opening try came from skilful use of the dual flyhalf combination of Owen Farrell and Johnny Sexton to create space and send Taulupe Faletau over in the corner.
Farrell and Sexton were also instrumental in the build-up to Murray’s try to lock the score at 21-21, before Farrell kicked the match winning penalty with four minutes remaining.
All Blacks – Penalties: Beauden Barrett (7).
British and Irish Lions – Tries: Taulupe Faletau, Conor Murray. Conversion: Owen Farrell (1). Penalties: Farrell (4).