Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

Lions reign Down Under

Jonathan Sexton, left, scores a try for the Lions
Jonathan Sexton, left, scores a try for the Lions

The British and Irish Lions roared to Test series glory at ANZ Stadium as they ended 16 years of hurt with a stunning 41-16 victory over Australia.

An awesome display of scrummaging power built an unshakeable victory foundation, with England prop Alex Corbisiero scoring an early try, fly-half Jonathan Sexton, wing George North and centre Jamie Roberts also touching down and brilliant full-back Leigh Halfpenny kicking 21 points.

Australia, 19-3 behind just before half-time, rallied to within three points six minutes into the second period courtesy of a James O'Connor try and 11 points from goalkicking centre Christian Leali'ifano. But the Lions were not to be denied as they took the series 2-1, savouring a triumph they last experienced against South Africa in 1997.

The Lions could not have scripted a better opening 90 seconds if they had tried as Australia were reeling from a nightmare start. Will Genia knocked on Sexton's kick-off, handing the Lions a scrum, and after wing Tommy Bowe was tackled short skipper Alun-Wyn Jones charged to within inches of Australia's line.

And with the Wallabies defence spread-eagled, Corbisiero ploughed over from close range for a try that Halfpenny converted. The Lions maintained their dominance through two Halfpenny penalties either side of a Leali'ifano strike. Australia had no answer to the Lions' scrummaging power as Corbisiero, Hibbard and Adam Jones tore into their opposite numbers, gaining a 16th-minute penalty that Halfpenny kicked.

French referee Romain Poite finally ran out of patience with Australia's ailing scrum, sending tighthead prop Ben Alexander to the sin-bin, and Halfpenny's resulting penalty took him into the Lions record book.

Jesse Mogg, who replaced the injured Israel Folau, almost made a startling impact when he broke clear in midfield, but lock Geoff Parling's tap-tackle took him to ground and probably prevented a try. Australia desperately needed something before half-time, and Mogg's arrival certainly gave them some attacking impetus.

And the Wallabies delivered right on cue. The interval hooter had already sounded, but after a third re-set scrum, possession found its way to O'Connor who weaved his way over, capitalising on weak defensive work from opposite number Sexton. Leali'ifano added the conversion, and Australia were suddenly back in contention, trooping off 19-10 adrift.

And their momentum continued early in the second period as the Lions conceded two poor technical penalties around their 22-metre line, which Leali'ifano punished them for on both occasions. A 16-point advantage one minute before the break had been reduced to just three after 46 minutes, and Australia looked a different team.

Further switches followed, and the Lions regained their composure as Halfpenny booted his fifth penalty before turning try-maker as his break set up Sexton for a potentially decisive 57th-minute touchdown. It was the score that broke Australia's back, and the final quarter proved a triumphant procession for the Lions as North and Roberts administered final try-scoring blows and the celebrations could begin.

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