Lions shred Wallabies in first series win since 1997
Gerry Thornley reports from Sydney
Paul O’Connell and Brian O’Driscoll hold the Tom Richards Cup aloft after the Lions won the final test match against Australia in Sydney to secure the first series victory in 16 years. Photograph: Getty
Date: 6 July, 2013
Venue: ANZ Stadium Sydney
Australia 16 British and Irish Lions 41: So much for the momentum being with the Wallabies. Ultimately, the Lions saved their best until last so ending 16 years of hurt in the grandest of manners; a pummelling of the Wallabies earning the tourists their second biggest Test win and 41 points is the most the Lions have ever scored in a Test match.
This was a stunning demonstration of what has become known as Warrenball, and as an aside it completely vindicated Warren Gatland’s selection and tactics to such a degree that he could probably name his price to take the Lions to New Zealand. The brand has been revived with the most important currency of all – they’re winners again alright.
Emotionally, the Lions were perfectly primed, and clearly that early-week break in Noosa also revived spirits, as did Gatland’s Welsh-dominated selection. The Lions played with a combination of direct physical power, unremitting intensity and variety from start to finish, which exposed chinks in the Aussie defence, not least around the 10-12 channel.
As important as any selection was the return from fitness of Alex Corbisiero, who fittingly set the ball rolling with the first try and then so destroyed poor Ben Alexander at scrum-time that the Wallabies tighthead was binned in the 24th minute and never re-appeared. The carnage wasn’t so acute thereafter, but the Lions’ supremacy here never wavered.
Richard Hibbard’s recall assuredly helped in this regard too, as did his physicality around the park. Alun-Wyn Jones led from the front with a mighty, O’Connell-esque performance and Toby Faletau’s call-up was also handsomely vindicated with a powerful, dancing, carrying game at the base.
Seán O’Brien also made his presence felt at the breakdown, in tackling and in carrying in a magnificent display which along with the unremitting Dan Lydiate, made for a much more physical backrow.
Jonny Sexton, who would deservedly become the only other non-Welsh scorer for the Lions in the series, had another polished outing, save for one missed tackle, and managed the game superbly.
While Jamie Roberts was not used as much as anticipated, he still provided a missing midfield target over the gainline, Jonathan Davies was error-free outside him, while the potent George North and Tommy Bowe were far more involved than last week.
However the star of the show was Leigh Halfpenny, his 21-point haul setting a new Lions record in a Test match for points scored, while he also eclipsed Neil Jenkins for points scored in a series and on a tour here in Australia, as well as winning the man of the match award and player of the series award.
And this time it wasn’t just his phenomenal goal-kicking of eight from nine, nor even his typically immaculate positional game and kicking from hand, but he also countered beautifully and hit the line perfectly to set up two tries in a virtuoso performance. The lineout was again not without its imperfections, and Mike Phillips’s service, mobility and kicking were not at their best, but these were relatively minor glitches.
The ANZ Stadium, as the Olympic Stadium is now known, has a Stade de France-like location in Homebush on the western outskirts of Sydney; a 45 minute snaking drive through traffic from the city centre. In other words it doesn’t seem to be very popular amongst rugby folk, but it is magnificently appointed and the sense of occasion was possibly the pick of the tour thus far.
It was certainly the most significant, the five-week, 10-match tour all coming down to this, and being defined by these 80 minutes. The support level was as close to 50-50 as made no difference, with most of those in the darkened upper tier again wearing red. But it was thanks to the team in red that those in gold clothing or helmets were effectively taken out of the game from almost literally the kick-off