The Lions won a glorious mess, and Sonny Bill Williams created one.

Years of code hopping, boxing, boxing clever by SBW has produced one of the most remarkable careers in New Zealand sport.

But it also produced the ill-disciplined tackle, one which could have caused immense damage to Lions wing Anthony Watson and led to the red card which has made winning this test series a very precarious proposition for the All Blacks.

While All Black supporters will be hurting, the Wellington result is a magnificent day for a sport which can only take so much All Black dominance before it gets tiring.


The Lions second test victory has set up a mouth-watering third test showdown, and that rarest of things in recent All Black history - selection debate. They certainly have issues in the three quarters, in terms of SBW's impending suspension, injury, form, experience. And erratic goalkicking came back to haunt them.

Jack Goodhue to centre? How about goalkicking Jordie Barrett for a sluggish Israel Dagg at fullback? Charlie Faumuina for Owen Franks? Jeez, maybe even Luke Romano's ball carrying power for Sam Whitelock, who was ineffective at Westpac Stadium. Aaron Smith was ponderous, Aaron Cruden disastrous, Rieko Ioane lacked test nous.

And we may have Sonny Bill Williams to thank for this.

SBW doesn't have rugby instincts, not genuine ones. They are not imbued. He's moved around too much.

Prior to a rule change in league, SBW loved to smash opponents with shoulder charges.

His no-arms, shoulder-to-head tackle on Watson was stupid, and scarcely believable from a top professional quite frankly. It came from a place he couldn't leave behind. It left his coaches and team mates scrambling.

There was absolutely no excuse for what he did to Watson, and the match officials led by referee Jerome Garces are to be congratulated for sending him off.

Wellington is a shot across the All Blacks' bows, a message that all is not as perfect as it seems.


Urged on by a travelling, vocal crowd which faces less opposition than the Lions players do, the tourists stuck to their guns and received an enormous stroke of luck when Charlie Faumuina was penalised for tackling a leaping Kyle Sinckler in the air. The winning penalty came via luck they thoroughly deserved.

Because as a weather damaged shambles unfolded it was the Lions, again, who produced the smarter attacks while the All Blacks' kingpin Beauden Barrett was a conjurer without a wand.

Even before SBW had been dismissed after 25 minutes, the Lions had produced a couple of clever moves as the Johnny Sexton/Owen Farrell combination began to take shape. In response, the All Blacks were playing it safe yet not so sound.

The first two tests have served to confirm the risk it would be to retain the remnants of this coaching regime when Steve Hansen calls it a day after the next World Cup. Hansen draws a special magic out of his players, but there is a lack of craft in the backline.

Back to Auckland, and a mighty battle which the Lions are more than capable of winning.
Their forwards were excellent in Wellington, men like hooker Jamie George, flanker Sean O'Brien, the oft-maligned Alun Wyn Jones and the raw but outstanding Maro Itoje.

In the backs, Sexton played his hand beautifully, and Farrell - who got barrelled now and then - did enough and kicked the goals.

It was an old fashioned stoush in another way, Warren Gatland using just three replacement forwards and no backs.

As for the winning penalty, I thought it was a very unfortunate way for a test to be decided. Charlie Faumuina had every reason to feel hard done by, even though he was correctly penalised by Garces when he dived low at a leaping Kyle Sinckler.

This part of the rule outlawing players being tackled in the air is an ass. It would make just as much sense penalising players for leaping as it does for punishing a player making a legitimate attempt at a tackle in the heat and speed of a test match.

Players' instincts are about making tackles, not pulling out of them. There is no time to make such a decision when a ball carrier leaps. The Lions deserved their victory, but it is a ridiculous way for a major test to be decided.