Wallabies keep series alive with last-gasp win over Lions
Roles reversed in Melbourne as Halfpenny misses late kick for victory after Ashley-Cooper’s crucial try
George North carries the ball and Australia’s Israel Folau downfield at the Etihad Stadium, Melbourne. Photograph: David Davies/PA Wire.
Adam Ashley-Cooper of the Wallabies dives to score the match-winning try at Etihad Stadium in Melbourne, Australia. Photograph: Scott Barbour/Getty Images
Adam Ashley-Cooper of the Wallabies celebrates after scoring the match-winning try in Melbourne. Photograph: Scott Barbour/Getty Images
Lions captain Sam Warburton leaves the field injured. Photograph: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images
Australia 16 Lions 15: This always had the look of a game which would be decided by one moment, and long before the end, in truth, the Wallabies looked the likelier side to deliver it, most probably through Isreal Folau.
In the event, it was his carrying that infused the home side and crowd with the belief before Adam Ashley-Cooper’s 75th-minute try, converted unerringly by Christian Leali’ifano, not only levelled the series but made the improving Australia favourites to deny the wilting Lions again in the finale in Sydney next Saturday.
It was compelling, it was taut, it was truly intense, without ever flowing.
Stoppages for injuries were regular occurrences after some punishing exchanges, especially in the second-half, when the Wallabies ran everything at an unstinting and virtually impenetrable red line before ultimately the pressure told.
The Lions brought plenty of intensity, and their scrum, in which Mako Vunipola was heroic after a tricky start, did magnificently. But their lineout was under constant pressure without Paul O’Connell, and they didn’t have enough penetration without Jamie Roberts or a potent carrier in the backrow. Hence, they became too reliant on Halfpenny’s goalkicking and survived, in large measure, by dint of their defensive work.
Sam Warburton was immense. Dan Lydiate tackled his socks off, so too did all of them, really, including the 10-12-13 axis of Jonny Sexton, Jonathan Davies and O’Driscoll. George North and Tommy Bowe, whose chasing, aerial work and tackling were superb, had little opportunity to shine in attack.
The Wallabies showed more composure and better basic skills, and Folau was easily the most dangerous player on view - the wonder being why the Wallabies took so long to make use of him.
They generated quicker ball, and with higher skill levels, looked livelier when the game was unstructured. Most probably because of the dewey conditions typical of enclosed stadia, the ball became slippier as the night wore on, and may also have contributed to the frontrows sliding off each other om occasion.
Rugby is an outdoor game, to be played in all manner of conditions. It wasn’t meant for indoor arenas, and certainly not on dry evenings when, had the roof been open, conditions would assuredly have been more favourably disposed towards a good game.
The sense of occasion was spine tingling. Walking around the stadium beforehand, it had seemed as though the Lions fans were very much in the majority, with thousands of Irish accents mingling amongst the good-humoured throngs. Almost more so than last weekend in Suncorp, if that was possible, while there were some empty seats, not a sinner wasn’t bedecked in either red or yellow, with the home fans being handed out plastic yellow helmets beforehand.
As was the case a dozen years ago too, the darkened upper tier was mostly populated by supporters in red. The noise levels conveyed as much, with the booing which greeting the announcement of the Wallabies’ line-up reaching a crescendo when the name of James Horwill was announced.
The Lions had the better of the early exchanges, pouring through on loose Aussie ruck ball to force a turnover, and both Warburton and Jamie Heaslip - in stark contrast to Chris Pollock’s adjudication of Brian O’Driscoll’s early breakdown work - won turnover penalties for holding against Michael Hooper and Horwill.