Simon Borchardt

Lions draw first blood in cracking opener

Kurtley Beale missed a last-minute penalty as the British & Irish Lions beat the Wallabies 23-21 in Brisbane, reports SIMON BORCHARDT.

Beale, who had also been unsuccessful with a penalty in the 75th minute, slipped just as he was about to strike the ball. His kick was short and wide as a result, and the Lions celebrated winning one of the best Tests you will ever see.

Both sides scored two superb tries and the Wallabies remained an attacking threat throughout the second half, despite losing three backline players to injury and having to move flanker Michael Hooper to inside centre. And Beale, who replaced Berrick Barnes late in the first half, ironically had a lot to do with that.

Ultimately, this Test was decided on goal-kicking. The Lions missed just one shot at goal, the Wallabies five.

It didn’t help the hosts that they lost their first-choice goal-kicker after just 50 seconds when debutant Christian Lealiifano was knocked out cold while attempting to tackle Jonathan Davies. That saw James O’Connor assume the goal-kicking responsibilities and he missed two early penalties after Brian O’Driscoll had twice been pinned at the breakdown.

Then came a 20-phase Lions attack that saw Kiwi referee Chris Pollock signal advantage for a penalty. Three phases later, and with the visitors having not made much progress, he called ‘advantage over’ and then awarded the Wallabies a penalty. Will Genia took a quick tap while the Lions were complaining about the decision, sprinted away 60m up-field and instead of switching with O’Connor on his inside, kicked ahead for Israel Folau. The rugby league convert, who is in his first season of union, picked up the ball and ran around under the posts, to make the conversion an easy one for O’Connor.

Leigh Halfpenny, who came into this Test having kicked 22 out of 23 on tour, got the Lions on the board with a penalty, before a Barnes up-and-under went too far and was collected by George North on his 10m line. The 21-year-old winger stepped two defenders, got round Barnes and cheekily pointed at Genia before scoring in the left corner. Halfpenny slotted the touchline conversion and then added a penalty after North had almost scored another try in the same corner, to make it 13-7.

The Wallabies, though, hit back in the 33rd minute when Folau got possession on the Lions 10m line, stepped off his right foot to leave Jonathan Sexton for dead, and got away from another two defenders to score his second try. O’Connor’s conversion went wide, as did a penalty attempt from Halfpenny.

Having lost Barnes to injury late in the first half, replacement Pat McCabe then took a knock seven minutes into the second and left the field on a stretcher, which saw Liam Gill come on and Hooper moving to inside centre. No sooner had he done that than Alex Cuthbert broke through the Australian midfield to score a try.

Penalties from O’Connor, Beale (two) and Halfpenny made it 23-21, and set up a tension-filled final 10 minutes.

Beale had another two opportunities to win it for the Wallabies, and those misses will haunt him, and his team-mates, for a long time if they don’t go on to win this series.

Wallabies – Tries: Israel Folau (2). Conversion: James O'Connor. Penalties: O'Connor, Kurtley Beale (2).
Lions – Tries: George North, Alex Cuthbert. Conversions: Leigh Halfpenny (2). Penalties: Halfpenny (3).

Wallabies – 15 Berrick Barnes, 14 Israel Folau, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Christian Lealiifano, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 James O'Connor, 9 Will Genia, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Ben Mowen, 5 James Horwill (c), 4 Kane Douglas, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Benn Robinson.
Subs: 16 Saia Faingaa, 17 James Slipper, 18 Sekope Kepu, 19 Rob Simmons, 20 Liam Gill, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Pat McCabe, 23 Kurtley Beale.

British & Irish Lions – 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Brian O'Driscoll, 12 Jonathan Davies, 11 George North, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sam Warburton (c), 6 Tom Croft, 5 Paul O'Connell,4  Alun Wyn Jones, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Tom Youngs, 1 Alex Corbisiero.
Subs: 16 Richard Hibbard, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Dan Cole, 19 Geoff Parling, 20 Dan Lydiate, 21 Ben Youngs, 22 Owen Farrell, 23 Sean Maitland.

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Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images

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