By Sarah Mockford at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane
In a nutshell
THE TOUR proper has begun! This was the sort of match that Lions tours are famous for – tight, tense and terrifically entertaining. Quade Cooper’s Reds made their intentions clear from the off, running the ball at every opportunity, and they outscored the Lions two tries to one. Their inventive attacking play highlighted flaws in a defensive system the Lions players are still becoming accustomed to, and Andy Farrell will surely have welcomed this sort of test ahead of the series against Australia. Better to know the issues now than in the Tests themselves because there is still time to correct them.
The heavy rain in the second half saw both sides tighten up after a breathless first 40, but the Reds’ second try kept the Lions on their toes until the final whistle. In the end the unerring boot of Owen Farrell and some gutsy defence saw them home. Now it’s on to Newcastle to face the Combined Country.
Ben Youngs made a great run in the 33rd minute and released the giant that is George North down the left wing. He in turn produced a pinpoint offload to Owen Farrell, who was unable to ground the ball. While this move didn’t result in a try, it did lead to a five-metre scrum and Ben Youngs’s quick reactions saw him pounce on the loose ball like a fat kid attacking cake (a tribute to 50 Cent there!) to score the Lions’ only try.
Star man – George North
He came off the bench after 20 minutes for Manu Tuilagi and what a spark he brought! In the first half he helped create two great try-scoring chances. There was the sublime offload to Owen Farrell and a scything break from his own 22 to set Sam Warburton on his way to the line – such a shame the moves couldn’t be finished off. He had a quieter second 40 – like most of the 30 players on the pitch – but with his speed, power, footwork and composure he’s the complete package, and a big one at that. He’ll be a real threat in the Test series.
Test watch – Hot
Mako Vunipola – With Cian Healy and Gethin Jenkins flying home, he was already the front-runner for the loosehead spot but he backed up the hype with this display. As well as putting in his tackles and doing the set-piece work, he proved a good link man on the ball and had the odd trundle.
Dan Lydiate – People may have questioned his inclusion in the Lions squad but he proved in Brisbane why Warren Gatland plumped for him. A real grafter – his work ethic probably the result of his farming background – he was putting in tackles left, right and centre, some times so eager to make the hit that he crept offside. He put in more tackles than anyone else – 13 – and missed only one. The question for the Lions coaches is do they want the graft of a Lydiate or the glamour of a Tom Croft?
Test watch – Not
Alex Cuthbert – The Welshman was caught out defensively, particularly for Luke Morahan’s try when he rushed up and was easily rounded by the Reds winger. His contribution fell short of his more recent standards and he was outshone by fellow wingers George North and Tommy Bowe, although the latter’s injury does open up a space in the first Test.
Stuart Hogg – At times he was superb, at others distinctly nervy. A great open-field runner there were moments when he should have put boot to ball instead of keeping it in hand – he’s still lacking the experience and consistency to challenge Leigh Halfpenny for No 15 shirt.
The Reds made 161 passes to the Lions’ 94 and nine clean breaks to the visitors’ five, but the Lions beat more defenders – 16 to 12.
George North made the most metres of a player from either team – 118. Not bad seeing as though he missed the first 20 minutes!
Queensland Reds – Tries: Morahan, Frisby. Con: Cooper.
British & Irish Lions – Try: B Youngs. Con: Farrell. Pens: Farrell 5.