Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 29 July 2014

Leigh Halfpenny can put the boot into Australia

Legend Ollie Campbell banks on Halfpenny

Leigh Halfpenny
Ollie Campbell in his Lions days

Ollie Campbell is preparing for another edge-of-the-seat, roller-coaster ride through the full range of emotions tomorrow morning.

The former out-half who toured South Africa and New Zealand with the British & Irish Lions in 1980 and 1983 respectively anticipates another epic battle which he sees going right to the wire, just as was the case in Brisbane and Melbourne where last-kick penalty misses proved crucial.

With the score in three-match series deadlocked at 1-1, everything now hinges on the outcome of the final showdown between Australia and the Lions. Given the circumstances, Sydney's ANZ Stadium is going to be no place for the faint-hearted on or off the pitch.

Warren Gatland's highly controversial decision to ditch Brian O'Driscoll notwithstanding, the merits or otherwise of that particular argument will be shelved for the 80 minutes of game-time. Like everyone else in the Home Countries, Campbell – who was highly critical of that call – is bracing himself for a tension-filled fight to the death which, in view of what is at stake, promises to eclipse what has gone before.

Having been a goal-kicker extraordinaire in his prime – he was the Lions leading points-scorer in the 1983 Tests against the All Blacks – it is hardly surprising that the 59-year-old Dubliner (pictured) is convinced that the outcome of the shoot-out ultimately could come down to the off-the-tee accuracy of the tourists' Leigh Halfpenny and the hosts' Christian Leali'ifano.

"The first two Test matches have been absolutely gripping affairs. They have been so tense. There's not an awful lot between the teams; Australia could be two up, the Lions could be two up," Campbell said.

"That both Test matches should actually come down to what was literally the very last kick is quite remarkable and just goes to prove how very well matched the two sides are.

"But we ought not to be too surprised, because if you look at the history of the Lions it is remarkable how many of the Tests they have played have come down to events in the last few minutes, to goals kicked or not kicked, even as recently as the last series in South Africa (2009), the second Test in Pretoria.

"So this is not a new thing; this has been going on – in my knowledge – since the first Test in South Africa in 1955 when the Lions won 23-22. South Africa scored a try in the last minute, the full-back, Jack van der Schyff, came up to convert it to win the match with the last kick of the game, missed it and the Lions won by a point.

"Van der Schyff never played for South Africa again and emigrated to Rhodesia. So whoever is writing the scripts of Lions' test matches is doing an extraordinary job, right up to the last two.

"From a pure rugby point of view we were completely spoiled in the first Test with four absolutely fantastic tries," Campbell said.

"But I think the Lions have probably under-performed, particularly in the second Test last weekend. They never really got control, never got any phases going and, I think I'm right in saying, didn't make a single break in the entire game.

"I can't remember a moment where it even looked like we might score a try, so from that perspective it was disappointing and the better team won last week for sure."

Tomorrow the mental approach is going to be all-important, a reality Campbell highlighted when he said: "The Australians have a fantastic phrase where they talk about playing the match and not the occasion. Last Saturday I just got the impression that the Lions had fallen into that.

"It was such a big game with so much at stake that I think they got caught up in the emotion of it and played the occasion rather than the match.

"This time it's the final Test, it's one-all and there's nothing to choose between the two teams because everything is so close.

"Most people – journalists, pundits, those I'd be in regular contact with – were beginning to side with Australia, though I was sticking with the Lions. But now, after this decision not to include Brian O'Driscoll, I'm just not so sure any more."

But if, as he feels could well be the case, the Lions' success depends on Halfpenny, Campbell has every confidence in the Welsh full-back's ability to deliver.

"The guy's goal-kicking is so good it's ridiculous. I think he has missed three out of 29 on this tour.

"According to BBC Radio 5, he has missed seven this whole season playing for Cardiff, Wales and the Lions. If that is true, it is simply phenomenal; it is beyond remarkable.

"Saturday, I think, could just be more of the same from these two teams. With nothing between them it could, quite literally, come down to the final few moments and even, for the third match in a row, down to the final kick."

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