For the first time in 16 years the British and Irish Lions have won a Test series. After the narrow and agonising loss to Australia during the last few minutes in Melbourne, the momentum was most definitely with the hosts, thanks to a late Adam Ashley-Cooper try and a rare penalty miss by Leigh Halfpenny, albeit from a fifty-three metre kick. The Second Test was dominated by capable defence from the hosts but the men in red offered very little in attack. The introduction of a big powerful team into the field was met with surprise by many people, and it was not considered impossible for the Lions team to implode on this final stage, as they were without the talismanic Irishman Brian O’Driscoll. Warren Gatland’s decisions were proved to be sensible as the physicality of his team, a trait embodied by the two formidable flankers, Dan Lydiate and Sean O’Brien, battered the Australians into submission for most of the first half.
An early try from prop Alex Corbisiero and nerveless kicking from Leigh Halfpenny gave the Lions a comfortable lead towards the end of the first half.
However with the tenacity that the displayed in the first two Tests when they were behind on the scoreboard, the Australians fought back vigorously at the end of the first period as a James O’Connor try and several kicks by Christian Leali’ifano brought them back within a score. What happened next was a stunning period of fluid counterattacking and lethal finishing.
In twelve dazzling minutes the Lions scored three tries, through the maestro at fly-half, Jonny Sexton, the returned veteran Jamie Roberts and a man whose name will be remembered by Australians for many years, George North. Again the Welsh fullback Halfpenny made his presence felt even more than his more sizeable countryman, creating two of the tries and providing the same number of conversions to claim the Lions record for both the number of Test points in one match and in a whole Test series.
The Man of the Match performance by the diminutive Welshman capped a career defining Tour. His contribution to the Lions’ success cannot be underestimated and he cemented his position as one of the world’s best players.
This Lion’s Tour has been incredibly successful on and off the field. The squad have clearly bonded well, with none of the division that existed in 2001 and 2005. Sam Warburton may have missed the decider, but his role as a leader throughout the Tour has been a guiding force behind the victory in addition to his formidable field presence, along with valuable assistance from Paul O’Connell and Brian O’Driscoll. The Lions finally managed to dominate the set piece as predicted before the Tour, and this gave their dangerous backs the platform to unleash havoc in the final half an hour. Any who believed this Australian side lacked quality is definitely mistaken as many predicted that their guile and flair could win them the series, and man Wallabies fans were even quietly optimistic.
The 2013 vintage of players from the British Isles have restored a full measure of pride to the British and Irish Lions after their series win. They have proved that the Lions have role to play in the international era and the determination, courage and skill the displayed showed that Northern Hemisphere rugby is more than capable of defeating the best teams in the world.