- Four tries and 21 points from Leigh Halfpenny vanquish Australia
- Fantastic final-quarter performance seals Tom Richards Trophy
Australia 16 British and Irish Lions 41
The British and Irish Lions defied the doubters in emphatic fashion at ANZ Stadium in Sydney, recording a comprehensive 41-16 victory over Australia to seal a first series win since 1997.
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Second-half tries from Jonny Sexton, George North and Jamie Roberts – added to a close-range effort from Alex Corbisiero after just 90 seconds and 21 points from the metronomic boot of Leigh Halfpenny – capped a performance that was saturated with immense power and founded on granite-like solidity at the scrum.
In fact, the nightmare of Melbourne’s last-gasp loss seven days ago was obliterated in a stunning final quarter that blew the hosts away – but only after the Wallabies had battled back to within three at 19-16 behind following a nightmare opening.
Will Genia’s uncharacteristic spill from the first kick-off set a dream tone for the tourists, the ensuing scrum resulting in a free-kick as the Australian front-row was early to engage.
From there, scrum half Mike Phillips conducted a series of surges from his fired-up forwards, eventually finding Corbisiero careering off his left shoulder. Just five metres out, the Northampton Saint-bound loosehead rolled away from the clutches of Ben Mowen and across the whitewash next to the left-hand post.
A straightforward conversion from the unflappable Halfpenny made it 7-0 and Warren Gatland’s tourists had the beginning they had been craving ever since last weekend’s gut-wrenching defeat.
As is their way, Australia came back immediately, camping in Lions territory until George Smith – on his 111th Test – took a flat pass from Genia and ran into a nasty head-clash with hooker Richard Hibbard. The veteran openside looked extremely groggy and was taken from the field for a concussion check-up.
His abence was felt at once, too – the Lions clearing their lines and winning a penalty close to halfway when Sean O’Brien latched onto a fantastic tackle from Dan Lydiate to earn a penalty at the breakdown.
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Halfpenny’s sweet strike took the advantage to 10 points before the Lions were punished for some careless work at the re-start, an obstruction allowing Christian Leali’ifano to get the hosts on the board.
But Toby Faletau’s excellence all over the park – winning turnovers, carrying ferociously and tackling with immense industry – then led Gatland’s men in a spell of territorial dominance that was taken advantage of at every scrum opportunity.
First Adam Jones caused Benn Robinson to fold before Corbisiero demonstrated his own set-piece excellence to twice turn Ben Alexander inside out. All three of these resulted in successful tee-attempts from Halfpenny – who went past the record for points in a series set by compatriot Neil Jenkins in 1997 in the process – and the Lions were 19-3 up at the end of the first quarter.
With Romain Poite sending Alexander to the sin bin for the last of these offences and Israel Folau leaving the field with a tight hamstring, it seemed a rout could materialise.
That would have been to ignore the famed fighting spirit of Australia, who with Smith back on sent a warning to the Lions on 33 minutes when replacement Jesse Mogg – he who kicked the Brumbies to a midweek win over the Lions last month – seared through.
Only an inspired tap-tackle by Geoff Parling halted the electric winger, but more pressure up to the stroke of half-time followed. In the style of his Super 15 outfit the Queensland Reds, skipper James Horwill declined to kick for posts from penalties, instead urging James O’Connor and Mogg to find territory.
And on the final play of the first 40 minutes, those decisions were vindicated – O’Connor jinking over from a five-metre scrum to challenge a few of his own critics. Leali’ifano improved the effort, meaning Australia had weathered a battering but went into the break just 19-10 in arrears – wresting impetus out of some dire straits.
Typically, they rode that momentum to chip away at the Lions’ lead in the early stages of the second half, collecting a pair of penalties within five minutes, first when Lydiate failed to roll away from a ruck and then as a rolling maul was halted illegally.
With Kurtley Beale fizzing at full back and Genia hauling his pack into the game, another Wallaby fight-back looked imminent. However, from a scrum – that old Australian Achilles heel – tighthead Jones won Halfpenny another kickable chance.
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Still the Lions needed more manic defence to keep it at 22-16, but on 57 minutes, Jonathan Davies – exceptional all evening to justify the controversial decision to drop Ireland centre Brian O’Driscoll – ghosted outside the blitz defence, dummied and found his full back steaming up on the left.
Despite being scragged by the covering tackler, Halfpenny freed his arms to put the supporting Sexton in. Poite went to the television match official to check for a forward pass before awarding to send the Lions support – a significant portion of the 83,702 capacity crowd – into raptures.
Halfpenny nailed another conversion with ease and ten minutes later embarked on the moment of a tumultuous match. Fielding a Genia clearance of the left-hand touchline, he jinked past Joe Tomane and sprinted into Wallaby territory, calmly drawing Kurtley Beale and handing a simple finish to George North for the definitive try. Even the rarity of a missed conversion could not quell the tourists’ delight.
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But more was to follow less than five minutes later, Jamie Roberts hammering through the tired Australian line from a flat pass by Conor Murray. International teammate Halfpenny fittingly finished the scoring – clinching the Tom Richards Trophy with a kick that took his own series tally and the Lions’ return for the match past 40.
He was handed the player of the series award as the celebrations started, but he would be the first to admit that the collective effort – epitomised by the eight led by irrepressible captain Alun-Wyn Jones that destroyed Australia’s scrum – was responsible for ending the 16-year drought so sweetly.
Australia: Kurtley Beale, Israel Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Christian Leali'ifano, Joe Tomane, James O'Connor, Will Genia; Benn Robinson, Stephen Moore, Ben Alexander, James Horwill (capt), Kane Douglas, Ben Mowen, George Smith, Wycliff Palu.
Replacements: Saia Fainga'a (for Moore, blood, 55-62, then 72), James Slipper (for Robinson, 66), Sekope Kepu (for Smith, 26-36, for Alexander, 36), Rob Simmons (for Douglas 62), Ben McCalman, Michael Hooper (for Smith, 5-10, then 66), Nick Phipps (for Genia, 69), Jesse Mogg (for Folau, 27).
Yellow card: Alexander (24)
Lions: Leigh Halfpenny; Tommy Bowe, Jonathan Davies, Jamie Roberts, George North; Jonathan Sexton, Mike Phillips; Alex Corbisiero, Richard Hibbard, Adam Jones, Alun Wyn Jones (capt), Geoff Parling, Dan Lydiate, Sean O'Brien, Toby Faletau.
Replacements: Tom Youngs (for Hibbard 48), Mako Vunipola (for Corbisiero, 67), Dan Cole (for A Jones, 55), Richie Gray (for Parling, 68), Justin Tipuric (for Faletau, blood, 55, for O'Brien, 60), Conor Murray (for Phillips, 51), Owen Farrell (for Sexton, 64), Manu Tuilagi (for Roberts, 69).
Referee: Romain Poite (France)