Leigh Halfpenny gives Lions edge in historical series win over Australia
Lions player of series delivers on many different levels of the game
Leigh Halfpenny celebrates after the Lions victory and his man of the match performance. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho.
Blood, toil and sweat but there were no tears, not for the Lions. All the cliches that have been coined, the phrases minted, the speeches delivered to try to capture what it is to be a British & Irish Lion are all such an inadequate summation of what it means to wear the famous red shirt. They offer only the palest intimations of the pride and passion that inspired the 23 players who took to the pitch in this Sydney Test and their 20 team-mates on the sidelines. But everyone who watched this match, the thousands in the stadium, the millions around the world, will know now what words cannot express.
This was one of the great Lions performances in their 125-year history. When those 23 players are old and grey they will still be raising toasts in its memory and the old hands will say to the young players who are lucky enough to follow after them: “What you have to do, lads, is summon up the spirit of Sydney because that is what it means to be a Lion.”
At the heart of it was Leigh Halfpenny, who has broken the records for most points scored in a Lions Test and most points scored in a series by a Lions player and was named man of the match and man of the series. “Our talisman,” Alun Wyn Jones called him, once he had put down the bottle of champagne he was swigging from.
“I can’t put this into words,” Halfpenny said. He will not be alone in that. “This is everything I have dreamed of as a kid growing up watching Lions tours. I would always dream I could be part of one. Now to be part of a winning Lions tour is one of the best feelings ever.”
The final 13 minutes, he said, after Jamie Roberts had crossed to put the team 23 points ahead, were the best he had ever known on a rugby field. By then the Australian fans were flooding the gangways, turning their backs on the history unfolding in front of them. The Lions support, tens of thousands of them, serenaded them out.
The 21 points alone were enough to make Halfpenny man of the match. His kicks made more of an impression than showed on the scoreboard. His first penalty, landed with insouciant ease from the halfway line, hamstrung the opposition. “Australia knew if Leigh can kick it from the 50 metres they would have to be whiter than white,” said Alun Wyn Jones, “and that enabled us to get a bit more of a foothold around the breakdown.”