Mark Reason: Lions' fan-tastic red army drowns out the All Blacks
OPINION: The fans won that game of rugby. When their team was down and out, the red army choir sang the Lions to victory. You wouldn't have known it was a home game for the All Blacks. The British and Irish fans made all the noise, provided all the colour and willed their lads over the line.
Captain Sam Warburton said after the game, "This tour is another level from four years ago. The fans who are here, it all makes it so, so special for the players. You're in a dark place defending in the second half, and you're pretty tired, and those fans really do pick the boys up. They really do make a 16th player. They're in it as much as we are."
It was an extraordinary tribute from the Lions captain. Warburton was standing in front of Ian Smith and he looked absolutely shattered. He had been up the North Face and back without oxygen, because that's what it takes to beat even 14 All Blacks. But the moment Smith mentioned 'the red army', Warburton's expression changed, the smile came back, the energy surged through his body again.
It wasn't 14 men against 15 on Saturday night. It was 14 against 16. Those sort of numerical odds were too much for even the All Blacks to overcome. I know some New Zealanders who were supporting the Lions in Wellington on Saturday night just to be a part of the fan fun. They were even wearing splashes of red.
And now the sick notes are flooding home to Britain. A huge proportion of the Lions fans have booked trips for just the second test. They have flown in from Britain for six days. They have flown in from Hong Kong. They have got the packet steamer from Kuala Lumpur just to be a part of it.
And you can bet your last Kiwi dollar, however wretched the exchange rate is for the Brits, that a lot of those fans are going to find a way to stay. They are going to sleep in hedges. They are going to park up their camper vans in the back of beyond. So let's make them welcome.
Note to miserable councils: back off. Put your petty parking tickets up your backside. Note to miserable immigration: back off. Shoes and boots can get a bit of dirt on them when people are walking about, it's not a $400 fine for folk who have come here in good faith and with love in their hearts.
We gave some Lions fans a lift home the other night because there are not too many taxis in the Wairarapa. The next day they found my wife in the library and gave her a bunch of flowers. Thanks guys.
The Lions fans are out there in their union jack jacket and trousers, their red blobby balloon outfits and their catsuits. They drape the stadium with flags and daft banners like, "Richie McCaw wears Peter O'Mahony pyjamas." And O'Mahony wasn't even playing.
Scots roamed the streets in their kilts and they do not have a single player in the match day squad. Bugger that, have a shot of Glenmorangie, walk yourself to the game, get soaking wet in the temporary seats and lead the fans in song;
Walk on through the wind
Walk on through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown
Walk on, walk on
With hope in your hearts
And you'll never walk alone
You'll never walk alone
Okay, so that's the Liverpool anthem, but who cares, these Lions fans are in it together. When their team stopped an All Blacks maul, for heaven's sake, the roar rent the clouds. When Kieran Read dropped the ball, the fans bellowed in delight.
Justin Marshall said in commentary, "I've been impressed with the intensity and ferocity so far."
He was talking about the fans. Well, not really, but he should have been and at the end the stadium shook. New Zealand supporters turned from the pitch and began filming the Lions fans. It's a challenge to New Zealand because at moments of stress their fans go to dark places. They don't sing the team out of trouble. The All Blacks are going to need you in Eden Park, so it's time to really turn up.
Some Kiwis get it. When Gatland said after his team won, "I'm a happy clown," he was joining the party with a bit of good-natured banter thrown in. See, Kiwis can do irony. And Gatland also 'got it' when he left Conor Murray and his entire back row on the pitch for the full 80 minutes.
It's rare to see an international coach do that. But Murray and Sean O'Brien and Taulupe Faletau and Sam Warburton were playing from the depths of their souls because they didn't want to let all those fans down.
On Saturday night the game came second. The real action was in the stadium as songs of praise and joy cascaded down and the red army partied on.