Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Lions miss their best chance to get redress

Brian O'Driscoll. Photo / Getty Images
Brian O'Driscoll. Photo / Getty Images

Brian O'Driscoll's words seemed to haunt the ground and die in the throats of the Lions' supporters.

During the week, the veteran centre implored his teammates to take the first of two chances to win the series. Melbourne was their best chance to redress 16 years of disappointment and see off a battling Wallabies side.

Both sides gagged for much of the test. The error rate was well up on Brisbane as the pressure of the occasion ate into their ambition.

The Lions wanted to keep play close where they controlled more of the play in the first half before digging in as the Wallabies ramped up the heat as they collected more possession, confidence and territory.

With the series on the line they called for a scrum and from the phaseplay manouevred Adam Ashley-Cooper across the line for the nerveless Christian Leali'ifano to crown the victory.

Lions coach Warren Gatland said the series was one-all and very winnable on Saturday in Sydney. That message seemed more for public consumption, it was not the picture O'Driscoll or any of the Lions wanted to paint.

They were slowing in the battle, they did not get strike players like George North into their game and they looked much more narrow in their play than they had in Brisbane.

Not that the Wallabies were any better. They tried more back moves but many were so far behind the advantage line that the Lions were able to drift and defend well until Ashley-Cooper's late dagger.

Neither side looked convinced they would win. They were like a couple of fighters circling each other, having a dig and then backing off when they found some resistance.

That happens in these sorts of series when the sides are of similar quality.

Now they head for Sydney all-square, with the Wallabies perhaps holding a mental edge after this result.

The Lions headed to Noosa yesterday where they will look to re-energise their weary squad and find the right mix of players and energy to end the series on fire.

It was back to work in Sydney for the Wallabies where they will be surrounded by the noise and rugby anticipation about repeating the feats of 12 years ago.

They have dented the Lions' hopes and raised their own belief. "We were confident if we got some continuity we could ask enough questions to derive an outcome," coach Robbie Deans said.

The test had been like a game of chess, changing players in response to their condition and state of the game. There were more injuries with Ashley-Cooper leaving the field soon after his match-winning try. Recovery would be a priority in the first part of the week as they refined plans for the tie-breaker on Saturday.

- NZ Herald

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