Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Lions v Wallabies: Menace and class

Tom Youngs of the Lions takes on Michael Hooper (L) and Kane Douglas during the First Test match between the Australian Wallabies and the British/Irish Lions. Photo / Getty Images
Tom Youngs of the Lions takes on Michael Hooper (L) and Kane Douglas during the First Test match between the Australian Wallabies and the British/Irish Lions. Photo / Getty Images

Three Wallabies stretchered off and several disallowed appeals for penalty tries were amongst a host of headline dramas as the Lions opened their series against the Wallabies with a dramatic 23-21 win last night in Brisbane.

Troubled Wallaby Kurtly Beale had the chance to win the test from 47m with a final minute penalty but he slipped on the turf and his kick went wide and short of his target.

This was a contest boiling with physical menace and individual class from the kick-off .

Forget any thoughts of initial conservatism as both teams sought the initial scoring thrust.

That came to the Wallabies through the skills of Will Genia and Israel Folau but when referee Chris Pollock whistled the haftime breather, the Lions had clawed their way back to a 13-12 lead.

The hype and billowing noise at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane came to a sudden halt inside the first minute when debut Wallaby five-eighths Christian Leali'ifano was stretchered off after his head encountered Jonathan Davies' knee.

At the tail of the half, Berrick Barnes went down the same exit path when he clashed with team-mate Folau's head. Then replacement back Pat McCabe was also invalided off with a leg injury.

In between, the dangerous Folau had claimed two tries and his marker George North one, with another ruled out by the TMO.

Once the game resumed after Leali'ifano's injury, the Lions rumbled through a vast number of phases, churning up metres as they headed into the Wallabies 22. But when went a phase too far, Brian O'Driscoll was isolated and penalised.

That was the signal for Genia to uncork his brilliance. He tapped and ran and ran. One defender fell for his dummy and Genia ran on towards the final defender Leigh Halfpenny.

Then Genia produced more genius. He flicked a grubber kick off the outside of his foot and debut Wallaby Folau gathered effortlessly for the run to the line. It was a glorious answer for the 52,499 ground record crowd after a wretched Wallaby start.

Folau was far from done after his first touch. Late in the spell he got into some space, fended off one tackler and bumped off another before rounding Halfpenny with ease.

Brisbane knew all about Folau from his Broncos and State of Origin days, now they were seeing how well those skills transferred to rugby.

The Lions had their own sorcerer. North came to Australia with a reputation to match his massive frame and this was his stage. His carving kick return run from 60m was all class. He beat Pat McCabe, James O'Connor, Barnes and then Genia in cover, arcing, swerving and finally outgunning the toughest little defender in world rugby.

The pace stayed throughout the test. One strong theory was the Lions would wilt in the final quarter and run out of sting if the Wallabies got enough ball to stretch their defences.

The tourists put on the jet-shoes before it got to that stage. If North was dangerous on one wing, Alex Cuthbert showed his menace too. He beat four defenders with his pace in an searing set play which took advantage of the fact that Wallaby flanker Michael Hooper had been posted in the centres because of all the injuries. Cuthbert's try was cleared of obstruction by the TMO and the Lions inched further ahead.

O'Connor had failed with his opening two kicks, cut the lead again with a penalty. The Wallabies were not going to disappear and replacement Beale nailed a 45m penalty to draw his side even closer at the 60 minute mark.

This was the guts or glory last quarter, the final stanza when players battled to keep their skills and discipline as exhaustion filled their frames.

First to fail, the Wallabies - and Halfpenny converted after their indiscretion. Beale scythed through the middle of the park in an electrifying response before the Lions infringed and Beale kicked the penalty.

A Lions bomb was unclaimed in the Wallaby 22 though it looked as though Davies interfered with the defender.

Pollock blew for a scrum. What a chance, Lions put in, 10m from the line. Somehow the ball squirted out the side and the Wallabies cleared, with Genia and Folau heroic again.
Beale missed a 30m penalty in front for the lead, as the tension and nerves went to a new level. And then the heartbreaking finale - the Wallabies contemplating a joyous, miraculous upset after losing wounded soldiers and their scrum - of all things - forcing what could have been and should have been a matchwinning penalty.

But that thought slipped away as Beale slipped - and the chance was gone.

- NZ Herald

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