Lions 2013: The Bits We Loved The Most
by Brendan Bradford –
And that’s that. Twelve years of build-up and anticipation, all over in a few short weeks, three glorious Test matches and seven historic tour games. The first two Tests had their ups and downs but neither failed to deliver on excitement and intensity, while the third was something else entirely. For 60-minutes in front of 83,702 red-shirt or yellow pith-hat wearing fans it was a genuinely outstanding contest. Then the Lions, working off a dominant set-piece and with Player of the Series Leigh Halfpenny running the show, surged away for a 41-16 win and a first series victory in 16-years.
Here are the bits from the tour that we loved the most.
The big moments –
The Wallabies win a penalty deep in their own half in Game One in Brisbane and Will Genia spies some space down the right flank. He takes a quick tap, leaves Mike Phillips for dead and grubbers for Israel Folau who opens his Test try-scoring account in style. A couple of minutes later, it was all Folau. Taking a pass from Ben Mowen, the 24-year old superstar left Jonny Sexton grasping at shadows with a show and go and outpaced a sprawling Leigh Halfpenny for his second.
Game One again and after missing a potential match-winner, Kurtley Beale had another chance with a last minute shot at goal. He placed the tee, stepped back, lined it up, approached the ball and kicked. The Gilbert took off at an ugly, low trajectory and bounced a couple of times before rolling dead in goal while Beale picked himself up and looked at a long divot in the pitch where he’d slipped. The Lions were up 1-0.
A week later in Melbourne, Folau rushed George North to shut him down. The pair grappled for a moment before the Welshman hoisted Folau over his shoulder and marched forwards. Most people focused on this feat of superhuman strength, but not many mentioned the classic DDT wrestling manoeuvre Izzy used to put North down.
Game two was a fairly dull affair until the last 10-minutes when Christian Leali’ifano slotted a conversion to put the Green and Gold up with a couple of minutes to play. Liam Gill followed in the footsteps of Justin Harrison 12-years ago and won a lineout against the throw to shut down the visitors’ best chance to steal the match. Finally, Leigh Halfpenny got a taste of what KB felt in Brisbane as his last-second, long range penalty fell short and the Wallabies levelled the series.
Which brings us to Game Three. With the series on the line, this whole match was a big moment, but if you had to choose one, it would have to be Halfpenny’s bit of brilliance in the 64th minute to break a few tackles and put George North away for a try on the left. At 34-16, it was game over.
The big calls –
His side trailing by six with less than ten minutes to play in Game Two, James Horwill declined a shot at goal and the chance to kick into touch in favour of a scrum. A couple of phases later, Adam Ashley-Cooper busted over for the game winner. Great captaincy, the stuff of legends.
“This is the fifth time,” said referee Romain Poite in Game Three as he sent Wallabies prop Ben Alexander for ten minutes and let Halfpenny make his fourth penalty of the night to take a 19-3 advantage after just 24-minutes. Folau left the field with a hamstring injury and the Lions attacked for over 20-phases but Jonny Sexton stabbed a wayward drop-goal attempt and the Wallabies surged. Horwill spoke about momentum after the match, and the hosts had it then, but couldn’t maintain the flow.
Off the pitch –
The Horwill hearing and re-hearing was a farce. Surely we don’t have to relive it here.
Who hasn’t had a late night/early morning fast-food craving? Just don’t do it in the week leading up to the biggest game of your lives please, Kurtley and James.
Warren Gatland’s selection of Alun Wyn Jones as captain while leaving talismanic centre Brian O’Driscoll out of the match-day 22 completely for the third Test triggered a massive amount of criticism worldwide. It was a huge gamble and it paid off.
What we missed –
There were some notable absentees from this series.
The injured list was long: Cian Healy and Gethin Jenkins were huge losses for the Lions before the series even started, while Paul O’Connell only lasted one game. David Pocock and Scott Higginbotham were missing from the back-row and the Wallabies could have done with the raw power of lock Sitaleki Timani at the scrum. A hamstring injury to Israel Folau left Australia without one of its most influential attacking weapons for the last hour of the decider too.
Quade Cooper. Would the series have had a different outcome if the Reds playmaker had been involved?
Best try –
George North’s try in Brisbane was amazing. After fielding a Berrick Barnes bomb in midfield, the Welsh giant ran 60-meters evading four or five would-be tacklers to dot down in the corner. Either of Folau’s tries in Game One are worthy contenders too.
Unsung hero –
Alex Corbisiero was immense for the Lions on Saturday, while Ben Mowen was one of the Wallabies’ best throughout the three match series.
Unanswered questions –
Will Robbie Deans be the Wallabies coach next year? Is James O’Connor a Test match quality flyhalf? Will Folau stay in rugby? Can the Wallabies bounce back for the Rugby Championship in a few weeks?