By Liam Napier in Wellington

You could not have scripted this one. The Lions needed every second of a drama-filled test in Wellington, but this test series has the decider it so deserves. The 12 year wait has delivered.

New Zealanders, put your loyalty aside for one second and through gritted teeth you may admit a fitting finale is far more intriguing than a dead rubber.

Debate will rage about the circumstances surrounding the outcome but the result will be the same: the scene is set for an epic Eden Park showdown. The wait for Saturday will be painful.

Advertisement

Deep down, well beneath the warm sense of satisfaction, Warren Gatland will know he will never get a better chance to beat the All Blacks. Not with any team. Not anywhere. This was it. His shot at sweet home success.

For so long it looked as though the Lions would do everything within their powers to blow the All Blacks first home defeat since 2009 and Steve Hansen's fifth since 2012, only for Owen Farrell to step up and slot a 77th minute match-winning penalty.

With the All Blacks reduced to 14 men - a seven-man forward pack - for 55 minutes, this game was there for the taking. This was not a fair fight.

Beauden Barrett even missed three kickable penalties to keep the tourists in the match. As if they needed another leg up after Sonny Bill Williams' moment of madness saw him become the first All Blacks to be red carded since Colin Meads in 1967, and Jerome Kaino pulled as a result.

And, yet, the Lions still battled to ram home their advantage until the death.

They came hard and fast late, as the All Blacks ran out of puff after gallantly toiling one man down.

The Lions conspired against themselves; Mako Vunipola the chief culprit with his cheap shot on Barrett earning him 10 in the bin. But they got their in the end. Ultimately, that is all that matters.

Taulupe Faletau's try broke open the slugfest with 20 minutes to play and gave the Lions hope. Their army of red fans behind the goal posts erupted. They did so again when Conor Murray found a gap to score with 11 minutes left, though TJ Perenara was held by the leg in backplay.

Farrell made amends for his missed Faletau conversion, and "Lions, Lions" rang out like never before on this tour. Campervans set their navigations for Auckland.

The Lions were exponentially better in several areas in Wellington.

Cast your mind back one week and we can now safely say their forward pack that turned up at Eden Park were imposters. They sure left embarrassed after their tight five was brutally exposed time and time again.

Wet and windy, this was their kind of night. This display is what we had come to expect from the Lions. Aggressive. Physical. Combative.

The Jonathan Sexton and Owen Farrell selection gamble was not a deal breaker but having two playmakers on the pitch helped decision making.

Conditions dictated, but the prominence of props Vunipola and Tadhg Furlong in particular in the tight and on the charge spoke volumes of the difference in intent the Lions arrived with. They came off the line hit hard all night.

They made the adjustments elsewhere, too. On occasions they got their rolling maul going. But, most tellingly, instead of standing off at the ruck, they committed numbers, contested and countered.

Whether it was a disruptive leg or extra shove, they made Aaron Smith's night hellish throughout. It's a vicious cycle. Slow ball allows the defence to reset and saw many All Blacks ball carriers take the ball from a standing start. Unlike Eden Park the All Blacks were not allowed to get a roll on or dictate that lethal pace.

Twenty minutes in Kieran Read was clearly frustrated.

"Is there a way we can speed up rather than them going down at every scrum and lineout? We just want to play," Read pleaded with French referee Jerome Garces.

Say what you like Williams' red card. We can debate the merits of the decision all day long. The reality, though, is Williams put himself in a position he shouldn't. A shoulder to the head left the officials little choice.

It was the turning point, and in the finish the Lions were just good enough to make it count.