Was there ever a more exhilarating ending to a sporting series? Apparently the week’s build up to the all-important, decisive Lions Test wasn’t enough of an emotional rollercoaster…
The announcement that Brian O’Driscoll had been dropped was the rugby equivalent of Lionel Messi carrying a Sunday league football team’s water bottles. The Irish were united in vitriolic abuse of the Warren Gatland. Rugby fans the world over scrutinised his decision. The psychological battle also reared its ugly head, the Aussies pegged as having the momentum after winning in Melbourne.
To add intrigue to the plot, the controversy of BOD being dropped was countered by Robbie Deans bringing the experience of George Smith into his Australian side. The 110-time capped Brumbie openside had spent over three years in the international wilderness, including a stint in Japan with Suntory Sungoliath, only to get the call up for what could have been the most remarkable comeback in Australian rugby history. The lack of O’Driscoll’s experience versus the presence of Smith’s had Lions fans doubting Gatland’s sobriety.
I hate to say it but, for all O’Driscoll’s brilliance over the years, he wasn’t missed. Gatland’s tried and tested Jamie Roberts / Jonathan Davies centre combination justified its selection, Davies playing the more subtle game, kicking well off the left boot and setting up Johnny Sexton’s try, while Roberts acted as battering ram in attack (though took his own try well by gliding gracefully through an Australian hole) and masterminded a resilient defensive line.
It was, however, delightful to see O’Driscoll soaking up the atmosphere after the game, with baby-BOD in tow. He might not have been in the winning 23 but no-one deserves to win a Lions Series more. A fitting swan song to an illustrious career.
Gatland’s selection of Sean O’Brien in the Lions back row caused its own consternation. George Smith was MOTM when the Wallabies took the decisive final Test in 2001, and O’Brien’s prowess as a traditional fetcher at the breakdown was supposedly no match.
It was SOB as a ball-carrying powerhouse that interested Gatland and Smith’s 18 turnovers in Super Rugby this season became irrelevant when O’Brien was part of an early surge towards the Australian line, resulting in Alex Corbisiero driving over from short range in the first two minutes. O’Brien epitomised the Lions’ ferocity, clocking up 11 tackles in the first half including a try-saver just before half-time when he forced Australia captain James Horwill into touch.
Corbs himself formed part of a hugely dominant scrummaging effort that saw the Lions awarded numerous penalties and free kicks to the extent that referee Romain Poite showed Australian prop Ben Alexander a yellow card for repeat infringements after only25mins. He worked hard around the park too, carrying, tackling – a complete performance.
The Tongan Turning point
The pick of Faletau at 8 also proved shrewd as the Tongan-cum-Welshman put in a phenomenal shift. He was superb at the restart, calmly collecting a series of high kicks, and made a whopping 11 carries and a crucial turnover on 55mins when the Australians were pressuring the Lions line.
A 19-3 lead at half time would have settled British and Irish fans’ stress levels but a frantic ten minute period either side of the break brought the Wallabies back within three points. Firstly James O’Connor side-stepped, slithered and stretched through several Lions defenders, following a period of Australian pressure in the 2nd minute of extra time.
Australia retained this edge in the early stages of the second half and two penalties from the boot of Christian Leali’ifano clawed the Australians back to 16-19. You sensed the game could have gone either way.
Enter Mr Faletau, for what seemed to be the turning point of the game, as Sexton ran in under the posts three minutes later and a deflated Australia conceded twice more before the final whistle.
Half-penny? More like an entire bank vault.
The diminutive fullback completed the most assured of Lions campaigns with a MOTM display, fielding every Australian kick that came his way, hitting the line at speed and then offloading for Sexton’s try, beating three defenders and then offloading for North’s, mopping up as the last line of defence, and kicking accurately from hand and tee. And in a metronomic kicking masterclass, he broke the record for Series points haul to boot [excuse the pun!], with coach (and former record holder) Neil Jenkins looking on.
Not wanting to end on a negative note but it’s deplorable how much media coverage has been devoted to Daniel Craig chipping up to congratulate the team. His presence hugely detracted from the achievement. The Times have even run an article referencing Craig’s dad saying he “would have taken his rugby career further if he hadn’t gone into acting.” WTF?
People, the Lions have just won only their fifth series in 125 years – so the fuck what if Daniel Craig played rugby for Hoylake RUFC???!!!