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The 2013 British and Irish Lions walked away victors in a thrilling opening Test in Brisbane, by beating a battered Wallabies side by 23 – 21 on Saturday and seizing the momentum in their pursuit of a first series win in 16 years.
This proved to be a test of grit where both teams scored two tries, but two missed opportunities by replacement back Kurtley Beale to kick the Wallabies to victory in the final minutes, meant that they only finished agonisingly close. The Lions remain unbeaten in eight tests in Brisbane since 1899 and are now just one victory away from a long overdue series win.
Lions captain, Sam Warburton said “Massive delight, whichever team gets the first win takes a lot of momentum into the next match”.
The goal kicking of Lions fullback, Leigh Halfpenny,ultimately proved the difference with five successful attempts while the Wallabies missed five kicks at goal. Truth be told, the Wallabies had three players stretchered off with injury and finished the game with loose forward, Michael Hooper, playing in the centres. Despite this, they certainly made sure that the Lions worked hard for their victory.
Outstanding individual tries by Wallaby debutant Israel Folau and his Welsh opposite George North were highlights of a riveting first half. The Wallabies had a major setback when debutant Christian Lealiifano was stretchered off the field after being knocked out in the first tackle of the match on Jonathan Davies and left the field inside the first minute.
The Lions forward pack gained an early psychological blow when they pushed the Wallaby scrum backwards to a huge roar from the fans in red in the 52,499 crowd at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium. The Wallabies were strong on defence under pressure until mercurial scrumhalf Will Genia broke free on a quick tap and delivered a brilliant kick for winger Folau to pick up and run over for his first try, on his Wallaby debut, in the 14th minute.
Halfpenny kicked his first penalty in the 24th minute to steady the Lions after the shock of Australia’s try. and barely two minutes later, North put the visitors in front with a sensational solo try. This came from an aimless kick down field from Berrick Barnes and North beat four Wallaby defenders to score in the left corner to a deafening ovation. Halfpenny converted and the Lions led with 10-7, with the Wallabies under immense pressure. North very nearly scored again soon after but a desperate tackle by Genia and Folau got him to touch the side-line with his elbow.
Folau was not finished yet and scored another spectacular try six minutes before the break when he was given space to run at the defence following a pass from Ben Mowen. A beautiful side-step past Jonny Sexton and, after beating two more tackles, he scored his second try on debut. James O’Connor missed the conversion from the sideline conversion to leave the home side trailing 13-12. In total, he missed a crucial eight points in the first half. This would prove to be decisive.
The Wallabies had their second player stretchered off when Berrick Barnes left the field and was replaced by Beale. For the Wallabies it was third time unlucky when replacement Pat McCabe became the third Australian stretchered off with an apparent neck injury minutes into the second period. Liam Gill came on and flanker Michael Hooper went into the centres to replace McCabe. The Lions immediately used this move to their advantage and worked play towards Hooper with a sweeping back-line move. Sexton put Alex Cuthbert flying through for a try after using Brian O’Driscoll as a decoy runner. Halfpenny’s conversion stretched the Lions’ advantage to 20-12.
Halfpenny and Beale traded penalties inside the final 14 minutes with just two points in it. With six minutes left, Beale had the chance to kick the Wallabies to the front but he pushed his penalty attempt wide. Then, as a final show of bad luck for the Aussies, Beale had another kick to win it for Australia in the dying seconds, but he dramatically slipped on the patchy grass of the Suncorp Stadium and pulled his kick to the left.
The Australians will take massive confidence from this encounter and they will know that the Lions were lucky to escape defeat against a Wallaby side that had three players stretchered off with injury.
The tourists will now look to clinch the series in the second test in Melbourne next weekend, with a third test in Sydney on July 6.