Queensland Reds 12 British and Irish Lions 22: Sam Warburton’s granite-hard Lions lost the try-count in Queensland today but they won where it really mattered, beating the toughest of their pre-Test opponents by 10 points on the back of a faultless kicking performance by the outside-half Owen Farrell.
They were made to sweat for their victory, but they will head to towards the real business of the tour – their series with the Wallabies – in excellent heart.
The tourists, however, did not emerge from the encounter unscathed. Ulster and Ireland's Tommy Bowe was forced to leave the action after sustaining a broken bone in his hand.
Lions manager Warren Gatland told RTE that Monaghan man Bowe would require an operation on the injury, a procedure that would spell the end of the wing's participation in his second Lions tour.
The Reds, one the world’s great attacking teams, ran the ball at the Lions from the start, their star outside-half Quade Cooper unleashing the first assault from his own 22 directly from the kick-off. The wing Luke Morahan and the centre Ben Tapuai both looked dangerous and the tourists found themselves making some early scrambles in defence.
But their set-piece work, particularly at the line-out, was far in advance of their hosts’ and using this as a foundation, they slowly found a foothold in the contest. Farrell hit the spot with a wide-angled penalty when the Reds front row transgressed at a scrum to put his side ahead against the run of play.
It was then that the Reds rocked the Lions to the core. Morahan spun away from Alex Cuthbert after receiving the ball in an unpromising position deep in his own half, and after cruising away from Ben Youngs and outpacing Warburton on the cover, he chipped Stuart Hogg, the tourists’ last line of defence, to complete a famous try at the sticks. Cooper converted to give the Australians a four-point lead.
This was narrowed by Farrell five minutes later when the Reds went off their feet at a ruck following Youngs’ smart short-side break. The Lions then suffered a blow that turned into a boon, Manu Tuilagi leaving the field with a shoulder injury, thereby making way for the Welsh strike runner George North. His introduction tilted the balance of the match.
First, he beat Anthony Fainga’a in a narrow channel down the left to give Farrell a route to the line and even though the outside-half fumbled the touchdown in Morahan’s tackle, Youngs was able to score a slightly fortunate try after dispossessing the Reds No 8 Jake Schatz at the ensuing close-range scrum. Three minutes later, North set sail on a thrilling run from his own 22 and almost created a try for Warburton, who was gang-tackled at the line and held up. When Farrell extended his side’s lead a penalty in the final seconds of the half, it was no more than the tourists deserved.
After the interval, there was little to choose between the sides as the game, slowed by rain, turned into a slugfest. But the Reds dragged themselves back into the debate when Nick Frisby, their scrum-half, released the wing Rod Davies down the right and took the return pass to score. Had Mike Harris kicked a simple conversion, the Lions would have been seriously worried. As it was, he fluffed it, and Farrell kicked a final late penalty to wrap up a fine victory.
Scorers: Queensland Reds – Tries: Morahan, Frisby. Conversion: Cooper. Lions – Try: B Youngs. Conversion: Farrell. Penalties: Farrell 5.
Queensland Reds: B Lucas; R Davies, B Tapuai, A Fainga’a, L Morahan; Q Cooper (capt), N Frisby; B Daley, J Hanson, G Holmes, A Wallace-Harrison, E O’Donoghue, E Quirk, B Robinson, J Schatz.
Replacements: R Samo for O’Donoghue 11-18; A Anae for Daley 22; J Owen for Holmes 35; D Shipperley for Morahan h-t; M Harris for Fainga’a 52; J Butler for Robinson 54; Samo for Wallace-Harrison 54; J Lance for Frisby 64; Frisby for Lucas 69; S Denny for Anae 76.
British and Irish Lions: S Hogg (Glasgow); A Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues), M Tuilagi (Leicester), J Davies (Scarlets), T Bowe (Ulster); O Farrell (Saracens), B Youngs (Leicester); M Vunipola (Saracens), T Youngs (Leicester), M Stevens (Saracens), R Gray (Sale), G Parling (Leicester), D Lydiate (Newport Gwent Dragons), S Warburton (Cardiff Blues, capt), T Faletau (Newport Gwent Dragons).
Replacements: G North (Scarlets) for Tuilagi 19; J Sexton (Leinster) for Bowe 47; D Cole (Leicester) for Vunipola 64; R Hibbard (Ospreys) for T Youngs 64; A Jones (Ospreys) for Stevens 64; P O’Connell (Munster) for Gray 64; J Tipuric (Ospreys) for Warburton 75.
Referee: J Garces (France)