Wednesday 17 January 2018

Lions blow the Aussies away to claim series victory

British and Irish Lions 41 Australia 16

Brian O'Driscoll and daughter Sadie
Brian O'Driscoll and daughter Sadie
British and Irish Lions' Leigh Halfpenny kicks a penalty
James O'Connor of the Wallabies scores a try just before the break
British and Irish Lions' Alex Corbisiero scores the game's first try
Australia Wallabies' Jesse Mogg falls after being ankle tapped by Geoff Parling
Jonathan Sexton of the Lions celebrates scoring his try
Brian O'Driscoll of the Lions looks on ahead of the game
British and Irish Lions' Jonathan Sexton celebrates scoring their second try
British and Irish Lions' Alex Corbisiero (L) congratulates teammate George North
British and Irish Lions' George North (right) celebrates scoring their third try
British and Irish Lions' Jamie Roberts runs in to score their fourth try
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JULY 06: Jonny Sexton of the Lions celebrates with fans following victory in the International Test match between the Australian Wallabies and British & Irish Lions at ANZ Stadium on July 6, 2013 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)
Australia's James O'Connor (right) breaks through the challenges to score his side's first try
British & Irish Lions supporters Laura Feeney, from Foxrock, Dublin, left, and Naoisa O'Brien, from Donnybrook, Dublin, are photographed in front of The Sydney Opera House

Conor George in Sydney

Where to find words to adequately describe the Lions’ extravaganza ?

If the greatest trick ever pulled off was by the devil convincing the world he didn’t exist this sleight of hand by Warren Gatland comes a very close second.

The Lions management promised that they had not revealed their full hand in the two previous Tests and so it proved. And in doing so the Lions bridged a 16 year gap to win their first Series since

The Class of 1997 bested South Africa.

This was magnificent from the Lions. Of course it must be acknowledged just how poor Australia were.

They were appalling. But the Lions cannot be held to account for the opposition. They were magnificent and fully deserving of their superlative victory.

The Lions could not have dreamed of a better start. Within five minute Australian flanker George Smith was being assessed for concussion – he returned four minutes later – and they were seven points up.

Crucially they were beasting Australia in the scrum. Alex Corbisiero was turning Ben Alexander inside out and with Adam Jones performing similar acts of savagery on Benn Robinson the tourists were looking particularly irresistible.

Their advantage up front was never more evident than with Corbisiero’s try.

After winning a free-kick in a scrum deep inside the Australian 22 Mike Phillips darted to set up Alun Wyn Jones for a break. Phillips looped around and on his second handling offloaded to Corbisiero coming around the corner.

The powerful prop forward drove for the line and despite the Australians swarming over him he had enough to get over and touch down.

If that wasn’t exciting enough the Lions were in dreamland before that terribly exciting first quarter was over with Halfpenny adding two penalties to his conversion as they surged into a commanding 13-3 lead with 11 minutes gone.

Four minutes later Halfpenny another penalty and when he tacked on a further three points after yet another penalty won in the scrum the Lions upgraded from dreamland to utter fantasy.

It was exhilarating from a Lions point of view, a performance totally at odds with the dull fare of the opening two Tests. The dominance at the scrum was, of course, critical to the level of football they produced but to their credit they made full use of the majority possession they secured.

There was an energy and drive in their play that ensured Mike Phillips was given a steady stream of quality ball. Jonathan Sexton and the players outside him profited as a result.

Australia struggled to match the Lions level of commitment and they were surprisingly obstinate in rejecting a succession of opportunities of accumulating points from penalties.

Four times the Aussies opted not to kick for the posts from positions that looked extremely favourable and instead kicked for the corner with the intention of winning the resultant line-out and conjuring up a try.

Three ties they failed but their persistence finally paid off in the final play of the first half.

The Lions’ defence repulsed their every effort to penetrate previously but they finally split the defence when out-half James O’Connor wrong-footed Sexton and then O’Brien as he drove over near the posts. The conversion was a formality and suddenly they were back in a match that seemed to have slipped beyond their reach on the half-time score of 10-19.

After leaving the door ajar at the end of the first half the Lions ensured to slam it shut before the game entered the final quarter.

First player of the tournament Leigh Halfpenny effected a devastating break that split the Wallaby defence before off-loading to Jonathan Sexton for the Irishman to race in under the posts to make the resultant conversion a formality.

George North was next to stretch his legs when he benefited from yet another outstanding Halfpenny break to gallop in at the corner for the touch-down.

And finally Jamie Roberts had the final say when he took a gorgeous pass to canter over for the Lions’ fourth and final try as the scoreline took on the look of a rout.

For certain there were regrets in the green corner at the absence of Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell on this memorable day but there was huge consolation in the substantial contribution to a stellar Lions’ performance from a uniformly excellent Irish quartet Johnny Sexton, Sean O’Brien, Tommy Bowe and substitute Conor Murray who was introduced in the second half.

Scorers Australia: C Leali’ifano 3 pens, con, J O’Connor try. Lions: J Roberts, G North, J Sexton, A Corbisiero try. L Halfpenny 3 cons, 5 pens

Australia: K Beale, I Folau (J Mogg 27), A A Cooper, C Leali’ifano, J Tomane, J O’Connor, W Genia (N Phipps 70), B Robinson (J Slipper 66), S Moore (S Fainga’a 73), B Alexander (K Skepoe 27) K Douglas (R Simmons 62), J Horwill, B Mowen, G Smith (M Hooper 67), W Palu (B McCalman 60).

Lions: L Halfpenny, T Bowe, J Davies, J Roberts (M Tuilagi 69), G North, J Sexton (O Farrell 63), M Phillips (C Murray 51), A Corbisiero (M Vunipola 68), R Hibbard (T Youngs 47), A Jones (D Cole 55), G Parling (R Gray 68), A W Jones, D Lydiate, S O’Brien (J Tipuric 59), T Faletau.

Referee: R Poite, FFR

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