Lions 41-16 Australia
Graham Boville in Australia
The British and Irish Lions saved their best performance for last, treating their vociferous fans to a crushing four-try victory over the Wallabies, ending the 16- yearlong wait for a series win.
Alex Corbisiero got the Lions off to a dream start, scoring the opening try within the first two minutes courtesy of a Will Genia handling error. Halfpenny added the conversion and four further penalties to give the Lions a 19-3 lead after just 25 minutes.
Experimental fly half James O’Connor scored a late first half try for Australia to reduce the halftime deficit to nine and keep the hosts in touch.
Two early second half penalties from the boot of Christian Leali’ifano brought the Wallabies back within three points, and had Lions supporter’s bottoms well and truly pursing, but three tries from Sexton, North and Roberts within a phenomenal 12 minute spell wrapped up the famous victory with ten minutes still left on the clock.
The tireless Leigh Halfpenny put in a superb man of the match performance setting up two tries and nailing eight of his nine kicks to give him a record personal total of 21 points, more than any other Lion in a test match – and with it, was deservedly named player of the series.
Warren Gatland’s reputation was well and truly on the line after he shocked many by leaving Brian O’Driscoll out of the 23-man squad, but the vilified coach’s selection was emphatically vindicated as the Welsh heavy team dominated in all areas of the pitch – even the lineout was…ok (ok being an improvement on the guff it had been in Melbourne).
The scrum in particular was ridiculously one sided, and with French referee Romain Poite more lenient than his predecessors in the earlier tests, the Lions pack was brutal from the first whistle to the last. The scrum was so strong, such a penalty machine, that I wager Gatland could have named himself, and his limp, at outside centre and we would still have come out on top.
Alex Corbisiero got the Lions off to the dream start with an opening try within the first 75 seconds.
Sexton’s kick off was fumbled forward by the nervous Genia and the Lions were able to unleash their scrum within the opening minute. This yielded a free kick, which Phillips tapped quickly to Bowe on the wing, who was held up five metres short. Two phases later, after captain Alun Wyn Jones shunted his way just short of the line, the ball was recycled to Alex Corbisiero, who spun his tackler to score beside the upright, Halfpenny kicking the conversion.
Australia had more bad news moments later when George Smith’s fairy tale return was almost cut short following a sickening clash of heads with Lions hooker Richard Hibbard. The veteran wallaby was escorted gingerly to the ‘concussion bin’ in a muddle of sweat, confusion, and flock of circling cartoon birds, but was thankfully fit to return five minutes later.
While Smith was away receiving treatment, Leigh Halfpenny traded penalties with Christian Leali’ifano; the latter’s resulting from the restart following the former’s, when Alun Wyn Jones was adjudged to have deliberately obstructed the Australian chasers.
This proved to be the only negative for the Lions in the opening 25 minutes, the scrum earning three more penalties in Wallaby territory within a ten-minute period, nine points that Halfpenny was never going to waste, driving them out to a 19-3 lead.
The third of these penalties resulted in a yellow card for Ben Alexander, who had to spend ten minutes on the naughty chair for collapsing the scrum. This was the last action he would be part of though, Sekope Kepu replacing the prop who was being scrummed ragged by Corbisiero.
The second quarter of the game proved to be a bit more open as the Wallabies defence began to show resilience, holding up against an exhausting 27-phase Lions attack that ended with a narrowly missed Sexton drop goal attempt.
As half time approached, Jesse Mogg – architect of the Brumbies victory – was introduced in the place of the injured Israel Folau, and made an immediate impact. Beale, on the half way line, managed to draw in, and unload from the tackles from O’Brien and Roberts to Mogg who went on a barnstorming run through the gap in the defence.
His pace put him in an apparent one on one with the covering Sexton, but wait…where did 70s gentleman Geoff Parling come from? The bearded prince put in a sensational last gasp ankle tap on the debutant winger, who came crashing to the ground, unable to hold on to the ball – knocking on.
With time ebbing away at the end of the first half, the Wallabies were starting to get a foothold in the game. Scrum half Genia, who seemed to put his early mistake behind him, began to show flashes of why he is currently the best nine in the world and at times, appeared to break through the Lions backline at will.
A number of easily kickable penalties were beginning to come Australia’s way, and it became clear when Horwill continually opted for the lineout, that they were going to gamble for the try before half time.
The gamble finally paid off two minutes after the half time hooter had sounded, following good work from the Australian forwards. Sekope Kepu, replacement for Alexander, brought some much-needed cohesion to the scrum, and they were able to maintain their attacking position.
Genia released the ball to O’Connor who waltzed through the non-existent tackle of Sexton and managed to get the run on Mike Phillips. The Welsh scrum half put in the tackle, but the Wallaby number ten’s momentum was enough to get him over the line and reduce the halftime deficit to 19-10.
Before kick off the Lions would have jumped at a nine point halftime lead, but on the balance of play, they may well have felt that they should have been further ahead, and within just five minutes of the restart, two Leali’ifano penalties reduced the deficit to just three.
The try before half time had galvanized that Aussies, who came out in the second half with their tails up. The first penalty came courtesy of Dan Lydiate not rolling away at the breakdown. The second came three minutes later when Adam Jones entered a maul from the side following good work from Beale and the boys in the lineout.
With half an hour remaining, it seemed impossible that the Wallabies were now only three points back. Frustration began to creep in – on my part anyway – when referee Romain Poite failed to penalise Ben Mowen, on three separate occasions, for being so offside at the ruck that it was almost embarrassing to watch.
However, this was the last time that day that anyone wearing red would be feeling frustrated – other than hooker Stephen Moore of course, who emerged from a maul with claret trickling down his face – I imagine he was frustrated anyway… I would be.
Three classy Lions tries within the space of 12 minutes ensured the famous victory was wrapped up with ten minutes to spare, saving fingernails the world over from the same treatment they must have received in the last ten minutes of the Brisbane and Melbourne tests.
The first of these came on 56 minutes courtesy of Jonathan Sexton, who benefitted from fantastic build up play from his fellow backs to make amends for his missed tackle on James O’Connor on the stroke of half time.
His forwards were in their ninth phase, deep in wallaby territory, when the decoy run of Roberts sucked in two defenders, and made space for Bowe to unleash Davies. The young Welshman, who proved his doubters wrong in the face of O’Driscoll’s exclusion – beat his man and unloaded to Halfpenny in support. The fullback sold Genia the dummy and with men on either side, went inside to Sexton who was able to run in unimpeded to score behind the posts.
George North scored the Lions third try, his fourth of the tour, just eight minutes later courtesy of some counter attacking magic from man-of-the-series Halfpenny. Genia failed to find touch with a clearing kick from his own 22. Halfpenny gathered and ran the ball back at the Wallaby defence, darting between Genia and Joe Tomane so that he and the supporting North were two on one against Beale. Halfpenny played the simple pass outside to North who was free to sprint in unchallenged into the corner to the deafening delight of the travelling fans.
Halfpenny narrowly pulled the difficult conversion left of the upright, showing that he is human after all.
Just three minutes later though, and with the game wrapped up and replacements thrown on, Jamie Roberts twisted the knife a little further by scoring the Lions fourth try courtesy of one of his trademark runs.
Following a successful lineout, replacement scrum half Murray fizzed a delightful flat pass into the path of the centre, who ran a fantastic line on the opposition 22, powering through the desperate tackles of Genia and O’Connor to score.
Halfpenny added the conversion to bring up what would prove to be the final record-breaking score of 41-16.
A sea of yellow began to flow toward the exits amidst a chorus of Bread of Heaven, Swing Low, Flower of Scotland and Ireland’s Call in a manner that resembled a fire drill. The noise eventually reached its crescendo when the referee blew for full time, with everyone safe in the knowledge that the Tom Richards cup would once again be back in Lions paws.
Australia: Kurtley Beale, Israel Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Christian Leali’ifano, Joe Tomane, James O’Connor, Will Genia; Benn Robinson, Stephen Moore, Ben Alexander, James Horwill (capt), Kane Douglas, Ben Mowen, George Smith, Wycliff Palu.
Replacements: Saia Fainga’a, James Slipper, Sekope Kepu, Rob Simmons, Ben McCalman, Michael Hooper, Nick Phipps, Jesse Mogg.
Lions: Leigh Halfpenny; Tommy Bowe, Jonathan Davies, Jamie Roberts, George North; Jonathan Sexton, Mike Phillips; Alex Corbisiero, Richard Hibbard, Adam Jones, Alun Wyn Jones (capt), Geoff Parling, Dan Lydiate, Sean O’Brien, Toby Faletau.
Replacements: Tom Youngs, Mako Vunipola, Dan Cole, Richie Gray, Justin Tipuric Conor Murray, Owen Farrell, Manu Tuilagi
Referee: Romain Poite (France)