Wynne Gray 's Opinion

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Australian injuries aside, well drilled Lions had edge

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The Wallabies found some reward with better turnover and penalty numbers, says Gray. Photo / AP
The Wallabies found some reward with better turnover and penalty numbers, says Gray. Photo / AP

We hear the truths in rugby and sometimes do not want to believe them. Especially if you are a Wallaby.

They are the often-forgotten foundations of the sport which can be glossed over when stars such as Israel Folau and George North are lighting up tests as they did at Suncorp Stadium.

The hosts had dreadful fortune to lose three of their backs to serious injury and that will fuel the what-if chatter as the series heads to Melbourne for Saturday's second chapter in the series with the Lions.

It was such a tough card to be dealt with the Wallabies forced to use flanker Michael Hooper in midfield against the mega-experienced Brian O'Driscoll and his comrades.

At least they had 15 on the field, unlike the New Zealand Universities in 1965 who ended with only 12 players against the Springboks in the no-replacement rules era.

Drill down beyond all the thrilling moments and individual skill in the Brisbane test on Saturday, go past the tremendous anticipation which enveloped the day and the post-match deluge of revelry and banter.

Any amount of rugby sages will point to winning percentages and how they were constructed by kicking your goals and having a solid set-piece and defence.

The pattern of the game meant the Lions ruled the lineouts 12 to five, they held an initial scrum advantage although they fluffed one late chance, while the Wallabies missed 25 tackles to their opponents' 16.

The Wallabies found some reward with better turnover and penalty numbers but in the final critical category, they flunked.

Nine times between them James O'Connor and Kurtley Beale lined up kicks at goal after apparent first choice Christian Leali'ifano was knocked into Woolloongabba in the first minute.

O'Connor kicked two from five, Beale two from four as he cuffed then slipped on his last two attempts.

Lions fullback Leigh Halfpenny was brushed by the thunderous stride of Folau but he was not alone in that failing.

When he aimed for goal, though, Halfpenny was sharp. Five from six went through the white markers as he continued the remarkable kicking he has shown on tour with 27 successes from 29 attempts.

Both sides scored twice, Halfpenny's technique and radar was the difference.

"It's all over, we came second, we had our opportunities," was Wallaby coach Deans' pithy summary.

How had the Lions managed to win? They had shown little that surprised Deans. They were efficient, well-drilled and well-structured.

In the margins, in the finer detail of the match, in the areas where specifics really count, the Lions had the edge. It was their night just as it had been for the previous Lions tourists who had won all seven contests in Brisbane.

The Wallabies would have warmed to a more recent statistic which showed they had been beaten only twice (by the All Blacks) at Suncorp since 2003.

This was a night for continuing Lions history, a speed-bump in Beale's rehab road and repeat questions about O'Connor's value at first-five.

For all of us, we now have some content to digest after the shadow matches in the past few weeks and we get to see it all again in six days' time.

- NZ Herald

Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

NZ Herald senior rugby writer Wynne Gray has been covering the All Blacks for almost 25 years and has attended more than 230 All Blacks tests live for the Herald.

Read more by Wynne Gray

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