British and Irish Lions: Leigh Halfpenny misses last-gasp penalty to take Test series to decider

Australia claim narrow 16-15 victory as Adam Ashley-Cooper scores a late try to break Lions' hearts

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The Independent Online

Lions full-back Leigh Halfpenny saw a last minute penalty drop just short of the posts as Australia hauled their way back into the Test series with victory at the Etihad Stadium, meaning their wait for a Test series victory will remain on hold till at least next week.

Centre combination Adam Ashley-Cooper and Christian Leali’ifano hammered the nails into the Lions’ coffin, with the latter converting the former’s 76 minute try to give the hosts a one-point lead heading into the final few minutes.

Halfpenny was given a final chance as the clock expired when referee Craig Joubert awarded a penalty 53m out, but his kick didn’t have the legs and for the second week in a row, the Test was decided on a last-gasp penalty miss.

The tourist had been heroic in defense, but their luck ran out after seeing captain Sam Warburton depart with a knee injury, putting his participation in next week’s decider into serious doubt.

The Lions had a line out inside the Wallaby 22 in the final minutes only to lose the throw and their chance of winning the series in two tests but now they must take the third match to end a 16 year wait for a series triumph.

The Lions made a great start despite Australia having the kick off and they kept up this tempo until Warburton won a penalty at a ruck by getting hands on the ball and Halfpenny saw his kick hit the crossbar and come back into play with the crowd singing Bread of Heaven.

With the roof closed,it made the noise even louder and the first mistake came from scrum half Ben Youngs who hesitated after good line out ball was won. Another turn over penalty from referee Craig Joubert allowed the Lions to maintain their position deep in Wallaby territory and a fantastic driving maul from the line out brought a penalty which Sexton kicked to touch.

The Lions called a line out with 12 players and drove for the line and Youngs lost the ball,  but another penalty came for pulling down the maul and the referee warned another infringement and a yellow card would be waved.  This time Halfpenny was given the ball and he put the Lions into a 3-0 lead after nine minutes.

The Wallabies responded with a good passage of attacking play and Israel Folau beat George North to a high kick but a knock on gave the visitors a lucky break. However, Mako Vunipola was penalised at a scrum handing Christian Leali’ifano  an easy kick to tie the scores . Vunipola was penalisd again and suddenly the Wallabies were 6-3 up despite all the Lions pressure.

Thankfully Adam Jones was working well on the other side of the scrum and forced a penalty for Halfpenny to tie the scores 6-6 and then another bad scrum allowed the Lions full back to regain the lead with a great kick 9-6.

Dan Lydiate lost concentration and went offside to give away a penalty in this stop start half – dominated by scrums and the referee’s whistle – shortly after Vunipola shoulder charged Adam Ashley Cooper which could lead to a citing. Leali’ifano showed how badly the Wallabies missed him last weekend with another good kick but just before half time the Lions regained their composure and North took a high kick to help set up a penalty which Halfpenny kicked to give his side a slender 12-9 half time advantage.

Vunipola started the second half badly, messing up a good attacking position with a terrible pass to O’Driscoll and suddenly the Lions were scrambling in defence with a knock on helping their cause.  Scrum half Young paid the price for poor passing with Conor Murray coming on after 53mins as the Lions had to continue to dig deep to keep the Wallabies out.

The pace of the game remained high but the skill level low and the Wallabies were starting to believe they really could square the series and called more of their attacking moves to try and break the excellent Lions defence.

North then brought Lions fans to their feet picking up Folau on his shoulder as he ran forward with the ball although the Lions wing was hurt and needed treatment for a neck problem.  Hibbard and Cole arrived to bolser the scrum and a penalty results which Halfpenny, close to half way flew between the posts for a 15-9 lead as we entered the final quarter.

Captain Warburton was then hurt in a ruck and had to be replaced by Tom Croft  and O’Driscoll took over as captain in what was a major blow to the Loins and their defensive action.  Jonathan Davies lost the ball in attack and Folau took  play into the Lions 22 and when they got a 10m penalty the Wallabies went for the scrum and the set move failed when Folau knocked on. However the pressure eventually told and Ashley-Cooper dived over for the try after 75mins which  Leali’ifano converted for the lead.