Sunday 25 February 2018

Farrell keeps Reds at bay

Alex Cuthbert, British & Irish Lions, is tackled by Luke Morahan, Queensland Reds.
Alex Cuthbert, British & Irish Lions, is tackled by Luke Morahan, Queensland Reds.

Queensland Reds 12 Lions 22 Robert Kitson in Brisbane

The Lions will not face more spirited opponents outside the Test series on their tour of Australia but their unbeaten record remains intact. This was easily the toughest test the touring team have encountered so far this summer and, despite a tension-riddled final quarter, the Lions management will be encouraged by a resilient performance.

A third straight win again came at a cost, however, with Manu Tuilagi forced off inside the first quarter with an injured right shoulder. The sight of replacement Jonny Sexton being treated for apparent tightness at the top of his right hamstring was even more concerning but the Irish fly-half managed to stay on the field until the final whistle.

By that point the Lions were hanging on, having seen a 19-7 lead dribble away. They were indebted, in the end, to the boot of Owen Farrell, who enjoyed his best game of the tour and kicked five penalties and a conversion from six attempts. George North, Tommy Bowe and Ben Youngs, scorer of the Lions' solitary try, were also influential as the touring team just about saw off Quade Cooper and his energetic Reds side.

A breathlessly quick first half gave way to a slightly more stop-start second half in increasingly wet conditions but the Lions' defence were consistently busy. It needed a good, brave tackle from Stuart Hogg to stop Ben Tapuai from scoring early on and only a fumble by blond flanker Beau Robinson halted another ominous Reds attack.

Home coach Ewen McKenzie had promised beforehand his side would play with pace and intent and they duly displayed plenty of both.

Even without seven Wallaby squad members, there was a real zing to the contest and, scrummaging apart, the Lions were clinging on at times. It took an outstanding break by Bowe through the heart of the Reds' defence to release the pressure, with only a fine cover tackle by the covering Luke Morahan denying Alex Cuthbert in the right corner.

The speedy Morahan, a member of the Australian Sevens squad, had plenty more up his short sleeves. Seventeen minutes had elapsed when the one-cap Wallaby gathered Farrell's hopeful up-and-under outside his own '22', spun away from the chasing Cuthbert, surged past Youngs, fended off Warburton and neatly chipped Hogg to complete a 70-metre solo score of rare brilliance. Even the stars of the Bolshoi ballet, currently performing in Brisbane, would have applauded his athleticism and delicate touch.

Almost as priceless from a home point of view was Morahan's next dramatic intervention, the 23-year-old slapping the ball out of Farrell's grasp as the outhalf was about to stretch and score. Just as it began to feel it might be one of those nights, however, the Lions had a bit of fortune, scrumhalf Youngs being awarded a 35th-minute try after the home No 8 Jake Schatz lost control of the ball at the back of a maul close to his own line. Did Schatz drop it or did Youngs dislodge the ball and, in effect, knock it on? The television match official came to the former conclusion.

The seven points duly regained the lead for the Lions, who might have had another try when a stirring break-out by replacement North ended with Warburton being collared just short. There was a growing sense that the Reds might have blown themselves out, reinforced when Farrell popped over another penalty to capitalise on a further period of pressure and put the Lions 16-7 up at half-time, Cooper having missed a straightforward penalty attempt from eminently kickable range.

Mike Harris missed an even easier effort in the second half and the Reds were made to pay. The Lions, who have now lost only one of the 26 games they have played in Brisbane dating back to 1888, kept cool when it mattered and two more Farrell penalties ultimately trumped another well-taken long-range Reds try by scrumhalf Nick Frisby.

The Lions, however, will have to soldier on without Gethin Jenkins, whose tour has come to an abrupt end. The experienced Welsh prop is due to return home along with Ireland's Cian Healy after aggravating a long-standing calf injury, depriving the management of their two leading looseheads. Their replacements, England's Alex Corbisiero and Ryan Grant of Scotland, have both arrived to boost the tour party.

Scorers – Queensland Reds: Morahan, Frisby try each, Cooper con. Lions: B Youngs try, Farrell 5 pens, con.

Queensland Reds: B Lucas (N Frisby 69); R Davies, B Tapuai, A Fainga'a (M Harris 52), L Morahan (D Shipperley h-t); Q Cooper (capt), N Frisby (J Lance 64); B Daley (A Anae 22, S Denny 76), J Hanson, G Holmes (J Owen 35), A Wallace-Harrison (R Samo 54), E O'Donoghue, E Quirk, B Robinson (J Butler 64), J Schatz.

Lions: S Hogg; A Cuthbert, M Tuilagi (G North 19), J Davies, T Bowe (J Sexton 47); O Farrell, B Youngs; M Vunipola (D Cole 64), T Youngs, M Stevens (A Jones 64), R Gray (P O'Connell 64), G Parling, D Lydiate, S Warburton (capt, J Tipuric 75), T Faletau.

Referee: J Garces (France)

Irish Independent

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