The Lions tour suffered a major setback today as their unbeaten record was dramatically taken away by the Brumbies in Canberra just four days away from the crucial first Test with the Wallabies.
This was by some way the worst performance of the Lions tour and their play - particularly in the first half - was disjointed and lacking ambition. They featured four backs; Christian Wade, Shane Williams, Brad Barritt and Billy Twelvetrees who had only just arrived in the country and the Brumbies made the most of the situation.
The Brumbies are missing their Wallaby players but coach Jake White ensured they were fired up for this battle which showed that too many of the Lions in this team are miles away from pressing for Test selection. Captain Rory Best had a nightmare at the line out and his poor throwing saw him removed in the second half.
The Lions were not helped by referee Jerome Garces' control of the break down which favoured the home side who were more street smart and made up for the 30-28 loss they suffered against the Lions in 2001.
The Lions now have to regroup quickly for the first test in Brisbane on Saturday.
The good early work by Christian Wade, which saw him steal a loose ball, was completely undone when he failed to put in a tackle on big Brumbies centre Tevita Kuridrani who scored after five minutes. He finished off a counter attack launched from a high ball that was too long and allowed the home side to attack wide with the Lions scrambling to defend.
The conversion bounced back off the upright amid huge cheers from the home fans who have seen only one defeat for the Super 15 leaders at the Canberra Stadium this season. Captain Rory Best did not help his side’s cause with wayward throwing in the line out – an area the Brumbies were targeting with real intent.
The Lions were using Billy Twelvetrees at outside centre in attack but needed their forwards to establish a better plarform in the biting cold of the capital city. Wade was given another chance to run but knocked on to highlight the problems of flying to Australia to join a new team and play 24 hours later.
Scotland’s Stuart Hogg, playing No10, was one player showing his class for the Lions whose error count was undermining their cause. However he wasted the first scoring chance for the Lions hitting an upright with a penalty after 19mins.
The Lions had a major let off when flanker Colby Fainga’a held onto his pass when he could have put wing Henry Speight in for a try and good work from lock Richie Gray saved the day. Jessie Mogg from long range and Ian Prior from 40m missed penalty attempts for the Brumbies who were using the wind at their backs to dominate territory. Use of hands in the ruck gave Mogg another chance just before half time and he put the home side 8-0 up.
Brumbies gave away yet another penalty and this time Hogg was able to claim the first Lions points but they trailed 8-3 at the break.
Best continued to throw appallingly at the line out ruining two attacking chances and it was impossible to build any momentum. O’Brien then failed to roll away at a ruck and Mogg kicked the penalty. The Lions won more ball – despite having Best to throw at the line out but could not find any continuity or penetration.
The Brumbies were smarter at the break down, playing to the referee’s loose interpretation of releasing the tackler and not playing the ball and scrum half Ben Youngs was becoming totally frustrated. Ryan Grant pulled a player out of a maul by his head and gave Mogg another penalty which he easily kicked. O’ Brien won a penalty for the Lions and Hogg reduced the deficit to 14-6. A raft of Lions replacements were made allowing Owen Farrrell to come on and kick a penalty to make it 14-9.
Another Farrell kick put the Lions two points behind as they finally put urgency into their play but it was too little and the Brumbies claimed the win.