Graham Boville in Australia
Lions 12-14 ACT Brumbies
The British and Irish Lions slumped to a 14-12 defeat against an inspired ACT Brumbies on Tuesday evening, their first defeat against an Australian provincial team since 1971.
Tevita Kuridrani scored the first and only try of the game after just five minutes, which helped the Brumbies open up an early eight-point lead before Stuart Hogg added a half-time penalty to reduce the deficit to 8-3.
The half time score could have been much worse for the tourists however, the Brumbies missing eight further points from the boots of Ian Prior and Jesse Mogg.
The second half was not much better for the Lions as indiscipline, particularly at the breakdown, allowed the hosts to extend the lead to 14-3 with 25 minutes left to play.
Gatland threw on his customary replacements on the hour mark and the play did slightly improve, but penalties from Hogg and his replacement Farrell were the only points they could muster, and the Brumbies held on to secure a richly deserved 14-12 victory.
The poor performance may not have come as that much of a surprise given that the makeshift team only had one training session before the match. Imports Brad Barritt, Billy Twelvetrees and Christian Wade (covers for the backline) earned their first caps, and Shane Williams, the 36 year old who was expecting to be in Australia as a commentator for the tests, started at 11.
The Lions started the brighter of the two teams however, and it was that man Williams who nearly went over in the left corner within the opening two minutes.
Rory Best went long (tactically for once) to Richie Gray from the lineout, the lock popping the ball back inside to the run of Ben Youngs who then recycled to Christian Wade, who was held up on the five metre line.
A phase later Youngs recycled the ball quickly along the backline via acting fly half Hogg and Barritt to Williams, who was eventually bundled into touch just metres short of the try line in a cloud of Brumbies defenders and his own bone dust.
The pressure was short lived however, and it was the hosts who achieved the first score just five minutes later.
Fullback Jesse Mogg launched a huge pass out wide to Andrew Smith completely unsettling the Lions defence. Smith sucked in both Wade and Hogg before popping the ball out to his centre partner Kuridrani who fended off the tackle from the recovering Wade and the flapping Kearney to go over. Prior missed the conversion.
For the remainder of the first half the Lions were largely on the back foot, owing to their own simple mistakes and ill discipline.
First, Stuart Hogg fluffed the restart directly into touch, and then Rory Best, captain for the match, was penalised on a number of occasions of not throwing the ball in straight, and as such probably threw himself out of a test position on Saturday.
With this, the momentum was well and truly with the Brumbies, and they soon threatened to run away with the game.
After Hogg struck the upright with a rare penalty, the hosts launched another stinging counterattack, and were only denied a try when Rob Kearney deflected Colby Fainga’a’s pass away from Smith who was unmarked on the overlap, and looked certain to score.
As halftime approached, Mogg and Hogg (they would be great names for a cartoon cat and pig crime-fighting duo) finally traded successful penalties. The latter benefited from multiple Brumby offences within a Lions ruck, in what was the last play of the half.
As with the first, the Lions began the second half as the better team. Christian Wade immediately earned a penalty when try scorer Kuridrani tackled him high, and rather than taking the points, Rob Kearney kicked for the corner to give the tourists an attacking lineout on five metres.
But predictably Best’s lineout was not up to scratch, the ball easily turned over and punted to safety, halting the Lions dream start to the second half agonisingly in its tracks.
The Lions were becoming visibly frustrated as the game started to run away from them and their discipline was beginning to resemble that of Martin Johnson’s England team.
On 45 minutes, Sean O’Brien was penalised for not rolling away, and Mogg’s kick meant that the Lions now needed more than a converted try to win, a task made harder when Ryan Grant gave away a senseless penalty ten minutes later.
With the Lions in an attacking maul, a frustrated Grant took exception to an (extremely) offside Brumby, and decided to haul him down to the ground by his neck directly in front of the line-o. Mogg made no mistake with the kick again, giving the Brumbies a 14-3 lead.
Hogg replied with one of his own almost instantly after the restart, and it was then time for Gatland to throw on all of his replacement in an ultimately unsuccessful bid to save the game.
Corbisiero, Hibbard and Cole came into the front row and immediately the scrum began to dominate, the lineout too became more secure. Farrell, on for the slightly out of his depth Hogg, too started to breathe a bit of life into the backs.
His passes seemed to come that little bit quicker and more direct, stretching the Brumbies defence and making them look tired for the first time in the game.
Indiscipline in the Brumbies squad in the last fifteen minutes allowed Farrell two penalty attempts, which he gladly converted, leaving them only two points behind with ten minutes remaining.
It looked at this point that they had the strength in depth, and the momentum to go all the way, or at the very least manoeuvre themselves into a drop goal position. But it was the hosts who finished on the attack.
After absorbing a number of gruelling phases from the Lions, the ball was eventually turned over, and the team from Canberra were able to run down the clock deep within the Lions territory before kicking into touch, securing a famous victory for the province, to the euphoria of their fans.
Brumbies: Jesse Mogg, Henry Speight, Tevita Kuridrani, Andrew Smith, Clyde Rathbone, Matt Toomua, Ian Prior; Ruan Smith, Siliva Siliva, Scott Sio, Leon Power, Sam Carter, Scott Fardy, Colby Faingaa, Peter Kimlin (capt).
Replacements: Josh Mann-Rea, Jean-Pierre Smith, Chris Cocca, Etienne Oosthuizen, Jordan Smiler, Mark Swanepoel, Robbie Coleman, Zack Holmes.
Lions: Rob Kearney; Christian Wade, Brad Barritt, Billy Twelvetrees, Shane Williams; Stuart Hogg, Ben Youngs; Ryan Grant, Rory Best (capt), Matt Stevens, Ian Evans, Richie Gray, Sean O’Brien, Justin Tipuric, Toby Faletau.
Replacements: Richard Hibbard, Alex Corbisiero, Dan Cole, Geoff Parling, Dan Lydiate, Conor Murray, Owen Farrell, Simon Zebo
Referee: Jerome Garces (France)
Primarily, I think it’s important to remember, ultimately, that this result, in the grand scheme of things, really, just doesn’t matter. Of course, it’s always bitterly disappointing to lose to any opposition, particularly to one that, on paper at least you should beat. But to me that is the point. This is by no means our strongest team. And with this second string team, we were facing arguably the strongest Australian domestic side around at this moment in time, who had Wallaby Scott Sio ‘loaned’ back from Robbie Deans and the Wallabies’ camp.
Shane Williams was understandably quiet, as were Barritt and Twelvetrees…
…To digress slightly, Twelvetrees did seem to receive an abnormal amount of big tackles, and I mean big, the effects of which I imagine he is still feeling now, and will be for a while to come. I even read somewhere that aerospace engineers approached him after the game to ask if they could use his DNA to enhance the strength of black-box recorders…
…Anyway, Christian Wade seemed the liveliest out of the newcomers, but he will have little to no chance in featuring in any of the tests.
The manner, in which we lost, however, should be a cause for concern, as unfortunately, Rory was abysmal at the lineout today. With the absence of Higginbotham from the Wallabies squad, this is an area that we really do have the opportunity to dominate; one can only hope that we have wasted all our bad ones, and that the starting hooker on Saturday (probably Hibbard) will be able to get it right.
The Brumbies battered the Lions at the breakdown on Tuesday as well, and rarely let them get near, let alone across the gainline. This is an area that the Australian team might previously not have tried to expose, and the renewed confidence this performance may have given them could be far more costly than any demoralisation that our boys may be feeling.
With all but one of the provincial teams played, and with the Brisbane test fast approaching, I’ve taken the liberty in choosing what I believe the starting XV should be, based on the previous six tour performances.
15 – Halfpenny – For me he was nailed on as a starter before the squad flew out given his performances during the six nations, and was put beyond a doubt with his performance against the Baa Baas. I’d have him on kicking duties as well.
14 – Cuthbert – If Bowe was fit this would be a far more difficult decision, but with his raw pace and power, I think he could make his way into almost any starting XV.
13 – Davies – The good doctor Jamie Roberts would have been my number one choice, but will miss this game, possibly all of them, owing to the injury he sustained against the Waratahs. I would instead start Davies, who has tries to his name, and Bring Tuilagi off the bench with 20 – 25 minutes to go for the biggest impact (assuming he is fit).
12 – O’Driscoll – Not going to dignify this choice with an explanation.
11 – Zebo – This was a difficult choice, given that the alternative Maitland has more experience. Yet I think that Zebo has shown more flair than the Scot, and seems more inclined to come in off his wing. Of course, if North were fit, none of that would matter.
10 – Sexton – If we take the dead ball out of the equation, I think he shows more composure than Farrell does in the bigger games.
9 – Youngs – The Englishman has a more complete game at scrum half than Mike Phillips. Phillips could be a useful weapon given the size difference between him and his opposite number Will Genia, but I still think Youngs has more to offer.
1 – Corbisiero – This position was blown wide open with the injury to Cian Healy, but I think the American-born loosehead has shown enough, particularly in the scrum, to earn his place in the starting XV.
2 – Hibbard – No. 2 in the past games has been the position which has let down our performances the most. I think all three contenders, Hibbard, T Youngs and Best have all had poor moments in the lineout (‘poor’ being kind to Best), but Hibbard looks the most solid (and obviously has Gatland’s favour).
3 – A Jones – Probably has always been the first choice tighthead, and I think having Cole, who is performing so well, on the bench, makes this one of our strongest positions.
4 – AW Jones – Big, solid and powerful. Richie Gray on the bench.
5 – O’Connell – This was another position that was difficult to call, but in the end, I’ve gone for experience and dependability. This man is no stranger to tough games, and he knows what it means to lead the Lions.
6 – Croft – I felt that up until this game, this spot could easily go to either Croft or O’Brien. The latter I think has put in some fantastic performances over the past two weeks, but he damaged his chances with the number of daft penalties he conceded on Tuesday. Croft also has the pace that could shake up any defence.
7 – Warburton (c) – This is pretty nailed on, him being captain and all. He has understandably had less game time than others fighting for this position, but I think he showed enough against the Reds to justify his position in the starting XV.
8 – Heaslip – I think whenever he has played he has, often unnoticed, had a huge influence on the game, and he never fails to stop running. Still, Faletau is not a bad replacement to bring off the bench.
If you’ve made it down this far, let me know in the comments what you think of my team. Better still, let me know who your starting XV would be, and then I can judge you as much as I know you’re judging me. 🙂