The Wallabies only had a couple of muddy tags between heartache and victory last week. Heartache won the day! The Lions lost players in Key positions while the Wallabies have a re-jigged backline. Who’s cuisine will reign supreme? You along with the Iron Chef are about to find out.
The Lions started the game at express pace! The roar of their fans echoed off the closed roof of Etihad Stadium urging their team forward. And forward they went. Trampling the Wallabies with no let-up for the first 10 minutes. Despite their dominance and four kickable penalties the Lions were only 3-0 up.
Finally the Wallabies had a little possession. The Lions scrum was put under extreme pressure by Ben Alexander resulting in two converted penalties for Christian Leali’ifano. Mako Vunapola looked very shaky at every scrum until he suddenly found his feet. The Lions scrum came back to parity and later won a couple of penalties of their own.
In the 25th minute Benn Robinson was penalised for releasing his bind in the scrum. His battle with Adam Jones had been a highlight of the match so far but Jones won this one and Halfpenny slotted the penalty to even the score. Then Ben Alexander added his own penalty for popping and the Lions took the lead 6-9 off Leigh Halfpenny’s boot.
The lead was short lived as Dan Lydiate was caught way offside and Leali’ifano scraped the right upright to even the score. Right on half time Ben Mowen was caught not releasing the player in a tackle and the kick was enough to give the Lions a 12-9 lead at half time.
The match was dominated by very good defence. There were no line breaks in the first half and the Lions in particular struggled to get over the gain line. The effort and enterprise was exceptional from both sides.
The second half opened up with both teams trying to run the ball. Unfortunately the ball handling did not match the intention, though the open play was very entertaining. It was a shock in the 62nd minute when the Lions moved the score out to 9-15 with yet another scrum penalty. The replacement prop Dan Cole seemed to use his hand to push off the ground but the result was three points to the Lions anyway.
The Lions seemed to be in control of the game with the Wallabies giving up possession constantly through knock-ons and poor touchline management. Despite that they managed to work their way into the Lions 22 metre zone with eight minutes to go. The Lions were caught offside virtually in front of the posts but James Horwill elected to take a scrum five metres out. Three minutes and 15 phases later Adam Ashley-Cooper scored one of his typically barging tries on the left flank. Christian Leali’ifano calmly slotted the conversion and the Wallabies were one point in the lead with three minutes left.
The Wallabies secured the ball from the kick off and set up a ruck just outside the 22 metre line. Will Genia fired the ball back to James O’Connor for the clearance kick but amazingly O’Connor kicked the ball out on the full. Surely after another game in which he had little impact and struggled to direct play, this is the end of the experiment of O’Connor as a flyhalf.
The Lions set up a lineout 10 metres from the Wallabies line but the execution was not perfect. The ball missed its target and landed in the hands of Liam Gill. This was the crucial turning point of the match. The Wallabies won a penalty and hoofed the ball down field to what seemed like the safety of the Lions half.
With two seconds to go the Lions managed to win a penalty deep in their own half and had no other option than to run the ball. They worked the ball up to the half way line and again the Wallabies gave away a penalty and the Lions decided to go for the shot at goal. It was a long kick for Leigh Halfpenny just over 50 metres out and about 15 metres in from touch. As usual Halfpenny was on line but this time the kick just fell short. The Wallabies won this match by the barest of margins and with no time on the clock. The 2013 Lions series is going to a decider in Sydney and that is what matters.
The Game Changer
I could opt for James Horwill’s decision to not kick for goal. Or Adam Ashley-Cooper’s try. Or Christian Leali’ifano’s calm kick under pressure to put the Wallabies in the lead. It could easily have been James O’Connor’s silly kick with moments to go. But my game changer was Liam Gill’s pilfer on the Lions’ attacking lineout. The Lions went from being hard on attack only needing a penalty to win to being in their own half trying to regain possession in seconds.
The G&GR MOTM
It’s hard to pick one player out from either side. Only because I’m forced to I’m going to pick Will Genia as the man of the match. He was exceptional at his own job and once again did his part covering for the lack of a flyhalf.
Michael Hooper was everywhere but just doesn’t seem to be heavy enough to have any effect at the breakdown. James O’Connor… Where do you start? Too deep, goes missing, shovel sideways and is not a threat.
Score & Scorers
Tries: Adam Ashley-Cooper 1
Conversions: Christian Lealiifano 1
Penalties: Christian Lealiifano 3 British & Irish Lions: 15
Conversions: Leigh Halfpenny 5
Cards & citings
Photos compliments of Tim Anger.