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All Black wizards may be the best in rugby history.

Byline: By Jeremy Gusgott

It is hard to express how despondent I felt at the final whistle here in Wellington.

As an ex-player, and more importantly a Lions' fan, I was willing them to do well and, as I have said throughout the tour, was backing them to win the series 2-1.

Whether that was more through hope than rational thought is a difficult question to answer.

The Lions inspire such passion that it is often easy to get swept away on a roller coaster of emotions.

When Gareth Thomas crashed over in the second minute of the game I was on my feet, along with thousands of other British and Irish fans.

It was the ideal start and a perfect response to last week's humiliating defeat by the All Blacks. At that point I had my fingers, legs, toes, absolutely everything crossed that the Lions could maintain their momentum.

But it just wasn't to be and I really feel for each member of the Lions' side, as they played themselves into the ground.

No one can fault the Lions' commitment or their effort. It was a vastly improved performance on the one we saw in Christchurch and this was a true Test match in every sense of the word, at least for the first half.

The players have to recognise that they were facing a very special side, a side that has the potential to become one of the best in history and it was a privilege to be in the stadium to see them produce such mesmerising rugby.

New Zealand possess so much talent through one to 15 and there is such depth in their squad that every time a substitute comes on they seem to be even stronger.

At the start of the tour I mentioned Daniel Carter as one to watch. He had already shown so much potential, but had still to be tested at this level.

As we saw from today's performance, he thrives on the pressure associated with it. It was one of the most accomplished all-round performances that I have seen from a fly-half for a number of years.

Not only did he score two stunning tries, but he also kicked five penalties and four conversions to take the New Zealand record for number of points scored against the Lions.

Everyone raved about Jonny Wilkinson as the best fly-half in the world before this tour, but you have to say that on Saturday's performance Carter has assumed that mantle.

He broke the line with ease, his decision-making was first class and he controlled the game brilliantly, especially considering he is only 23. Carter has Wilkinson's kicking ability and is also a sound defender, but where he excels and Wilkinson struggles, is in terms of pace.

That is a quality that the All Blacks possess all over the field, both in terms of individuals and in terms of producing quick, clean ball. The All Blacks' handling skills were also far superior. The Sivivatu try was just one example that epitomised all that is good about New Zealand rugby; incisive running, power and pace in abundance and an enviable ability to off-load the ball in the tackle, to keep it alive and maintain attacking momentum.

It's true that the All Blacks have an unassailable 2-0 lead with one game to play, but I don't think anyone should assume that next weekend's game will be boring. If the Lions can put together a few more minutes of the play they produced in the first 10 minutes then they could cause New Zealand some problems.

However, the All Blacks will be going for a 'Blackwash' and it would be extremely unrealistic to believe a side playing as well as the All Blacks are will lose, especially not on home turf.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Wales On Sunday (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jul 3, 2005
Words:633
Previous Article:Talk on the wild side.
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