By Sarah Mockford at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane
In a nutshell
What a Test match! What a finish! It was nail-biting stuff. There were great tries, powerful hits, end-to-end action and plenty of drama – this is what Lions series are all about.
The match went down to the wire and the Wallabies had two late opportunities to snatch a win with penalties. Instead, Kurtley Beale skewed the first and slipped on the second. All in all, Australia – whose back-line was decimated by injury and who had to resort to playing flanker Michael Hooper in midfield – left 14 points on the field with James O’Connor also missing kicks at goal.
Israel Folau scored two great tries in the first half, but it was George North’s run from his own half that got the biggest cheer from the record crowd at this ground. He beat four Wallaby defenders on his way to the line – and nearly crossed for a second a few minutes later, only for the TMO to rule he hadn’t grounded the ball. Alex Cuthbert’s try in the second half gave the Lions breathing space, but it was still a nervy finish as the Wallabies clawed their way back into the game with Beale’s boot.
The final scrum. The Lions had a scrum just inside their own half after an Australian knock-on, but it was the Wallabies who were awarded the penalty and with it the chance to win the game. Kurtley Beale stepped up but slipped over as he drilled the kick low and wide. Whistle blows and the Lions win.
Star man – Brian O’Driscoll
George North provided the Lions’ moment of magic, Israel Folau looked at home on the international stage and Will Genia directed the Wallabies superbly as always, but the old stager in the Lions midfield put in quite a shift. Defensively he was at the heart of the action – his 11 tackles were topped only by 12 from Sam Warburton – and he also showed some great touches with ball in hand. His pop pass to Jonathan Davies towards the end of the second half was unlucky not to result in a try. It’s obvious BOD is desperate for a series win.
Room for improvement
The Lions need to adapt quicker to referee interpretations. They knew Chris Pollock was a stickler for players staying on their feet at the tackle area but they still gave away early penalties – whether right or not! – and if James O’Connor had been on target they would have been punished.
Defensively the Lions were punished out wide twice. The first time was down to Will Genia’s counter-attacking genius and Leigh Halfpenny was caught on his own at the back, but for Israel Folau’s second try George North’s decision to rush up and make a tackle left his team-mates exposed. They need to be more organised as these Wallabies know how to score tries.
They also missed Jamie Roberts’s ability to get over the gain-line. They tried to use Jonathan Davies in the same role but he couldn’t make the same impact, although he still played very well. They either need Roberts fit for the second Test or have to tweak their game plan.
The fact they also couldn’t capitalise on the rejigged Australia back-line should also be a concern – it was a prime opportunity to test them in defence – and the front-row replacements struggled at scrum time too.
The Lions beat 16 defenders to Australia’s 7 but the Wallabies made 12 offloads to three. Australia also conceded 14 turnovers to three and had only a 44% success rate at goal.
Australia – Tries: Folau 2. Con: O’Connor. Pens: O’Connor, Beale 2.
Lions – Tries: North, Cuthbert. Cons: Halfpenny 2. Pens: Halfpenny 3.