Forever could be only 80 minutes away as Lions regroup for Melbourne Test
Victory in Brisbane Test comes at a price as Lions await word on Paul O’Connell (below) arm injury
Eighty minutes. Eighty minutes from completing their shot at forever. Eighty minutes from scaling their Everest. The Lions move on to Melbourne and Saturday’s second Test via tomorrow night’s game against the Rebels having played their get out of jail card last Saturday, but also mindful that 80 minutes is a long, long way away
A tad ominously, in both the 1989 series, when the Wallabies won the first Test, and 2001, when the Lions went 1-0 up in Brisbane, the beaten side came back to win the series.
As the latter was reprised on Fox Sports on Thursday and Friday, giving the squad ample ammunition to slag Brian O’Driscoll and Rob Howley, the Lions will be aware of the Wallabies’ capacity to regroup and fight for their lives.
“We were looking at that and we know all about the history of that,” said Jamie Heaslip, “what a wounded animal the Wallabies are after losing and how they will come back at us next Saturday.”
There are admittedly, a couple of key differences. The brilliant Will Genia can even surpass George Gregan’s influence but otherwise, the Wallabies are nothing like the seasoned group of ’01.
They are wounded, three backs being stretchered off and a fourth injured in a throbbing Suncorp Arena, but they had a significant and unexpected reprieve when captain James Horwill was cleared by a disciplinary hearing of stamping on the head of Alun-Wyn Jones.
In handing down his decision, Judicial Officer, Nigel Hampton QC found on the balance of probabilities, he could not find an intentional or deliberate action of stamping or trampling.
“I found that I could not reject as being implausible or improbable Horwill’s explanation that as he was driving forward with his right leg raised he was spun off balance through the impact of Lions players entering the ruck from the opposite side.”
“In an endeavour to regain his balance Horwill brought his right leg to the ground unknowing that Alun-Wyn Jones’ head was in that area, due to having his sight impeded by the presence of Michael Hooper and Tom Croft, who were beneath him and over the top of Alun- Wyn Jones. Due to these reasons I cannot uphold the citing.”
This is a decidedly curious interpretation of events to say the least, for it’s hard to see Lions players entering the ruck and throwing Horwill off balance as he brings his right foot across his left and makes contact with Jones’ head, who then pulls back and clutches himself.
The Lions will be understandably furious, for as Warren Gatland said earlier in the day he’d played in an era when rucking was part of the game, but that “the head was sacrosanct”.
Fullback Berrick Barnes (concussion), centre Adam Ashley-Cooper (shoulder), winger Digby Ioane (shoulder) and replacement centre Pat McCabe (neck), are all highly doubtful.
George Smith, a veteran from the 2001 series, has been called up to the squad with Reds centre Ben Tapuai and Brumbies full back Jesse Mogg.
Kurtley Beale – whose slip for his second late missed penalty could become the excruciating, car-crash moment of the tour – will come into the starting line-up, perhaps even at outhalf, which could allow James O’Connor to play on the wing, with Israel Folau moving to his favoured fullback.