By Sarah Mockford at Etihad Stadium in Melbourne
In a nutshell
This was a tight, edgy, error-strewn affair, sealed by an Adam Ashley-Cooper try four minutes from time. Neither side had the space to create the spectacular tries of seven days ago, the two defences making it difficult to spark any expansive attacking moves. Leigh Halfpenny did have a chance to snatch the win with the last kick of the game but it fell short from halfway, so the series now goes to a deciding Test in Sydney.
It was a hugely physical performance from both sides and it was pleasing to see referee Craig Joubert allow a contest at the breakdown after last week’s non-event in that area. The mistakes and numerous resets at scrum time did make it a stop-start affair. It wasn’t a thrilling game, but it was a tense one – the nature of the occasion clearly affecting both sides – and Australia did what they so often do in all manner of sports, displaying the self-belief to keep playing and go for the final score. When their backs are to the wall, the Wallabies thrive. Now the momentum’s with them, the pressure is on the Lions – will they be able to display similar determination next week and win a first series since 1997?
Adam Ashley-Cooper’s touchdown in the 76th minute. The Lions were leading 15-9 and looked comfortable, but Australia then managed to work through the phases in the visitors’ half. Israel Folau made a half break, then Will Genia got within five metres of the line. The ball was recycled quickly, James O’Connor fed Ashley-Cooper and he broke Jonathan Davies’s tackle to dive over the line. Christian Leali’ifano then slotted the conversion to give Australia the lead for the first time since the 22nd minute.
Star man – Sam Warburton
The Lions captain was immense before his enforced departure with an injury. Given far more leeway to compete at the breakdown than the previous week, he dominated the contact area and earned the Lions penalties as the Wallabies were forced to hold on to the ball. He also made his tackles, a key one coming when Australia took a quick tap penalty – he spotted their plan and was the first to sprint across to the touchline to make the hit. He was sorely missed when he had to depart with 15 minutes to go, the Wallabies gaining an edge at the tackle area and that quick ball led to the decisive try.
Room for improvement
The Lions conceded a fair few penalties at scrum time, Mako Vunipola being picked out by the officials early on, so they will want to tighten up that area over the next week. Penalty kicks are likely to prove decisive in the final Test.
They made too many errors – knock-ons, messy set-piece ball, a few poor kicks – and will want to improve on their accuracy for next week. They will need to retain possession in order to create scoring chances because they are likely to need to score tries to win this series. They can also look at their game management and kicking game – keeping the Aussies pinned back in their 22 restricts their attacking threat but here too many balls were kicked to the hosts in space and the Lions struggled for territory.
As James Horwill said post-match “the game of chess continues”. Both sides analysis teams will be working tirelessly to pinpoint areas to exploit, but it will be down to the players on the pitch to be clinical in doing that on the pitch next week.
Australia made four clean breaks to none from the Lions and made three times as many offloads (nine to three), and twice as many passes (139 to 63) and runs (127 to 60). Mako Vunipola was the Lions’ top tackler with 15.
Australia – Try: Ashley-Cooper. Con: Leali’ifano. Pens: Leali’ifano 3.
Lions – Pens: Halfpenny 5.