Dawson leaves the talking to his boot

ACT Brumbies 28 Lions 30
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The Independent Online

Matthew Dawson's elevation to the ranks of the world's great diarists – Samuel Pepys, Adrian Mole, Bridget Jones – was completed as recently as last weekend, when the Northampton scrum-half lambasted the Lions manage-ment on the morning of the first Test with the Wallabies and landed himself in an ocean of hot water. Three days on, he is also showing an aptitude for writing Hollywood-style film scripts. Dawson completed a famous victory over Australia's state-of-the-art Super 12 champions by converting Austin Healey's try in the ninth minute of injury time. Steven Spielberg, eat your heart out.

Under normal circumstances, the kick would not have been particularly testing – the rugby equivalent of a pitching wedge from just outside the 22. But these circumstances could not conceivably have been more abnormal. The Lions, cut to ribbons in the opening 25 minutes, had girded their loins sufficiently to close the deficit to two points as the clock ticked past the 80-minute mark. Travis Hall, the Brumbies' half-back, then dealt the tourists a blow to the solar plexus by stroking a third penalty between the sticks and widening the gap to five.

Nothing less than a converted try would give David Young's dirt-trackers the victory they craved as a means of justifying their existence on this difficult and often fractious trip. The first part of the equation came at the end of a bewilderingly long passage of attacking play, during which Darren Morris, the spherical prop from Swansea, produced a very passable impersonation of a footballing genius and Healey, all buzz and bluster, materialised outside Ronan O'Gara and Iain Balshaw to cross towards the left corner and cut in towards the posts.

So it was that Dawson, of all people on the face of the earth, stepped forward to decide the outcome, one way or the other. The word "pressure" has virtually lost its meaning in the sporting context, due to chronic misuse over a period of decades, but there was a fair bit of the stuff bearing down on the Lions whistle-blower as he lined up the final kick of the game. He struck it perfectly, clutched the Lions badge in his left hand as if to say "Yes, I really do care", and promptly broke down in tears during a television interview. From zero to hero in the space of 72 hours.

"It has been a funny three or four days for Matt, but he showed tremendous character when we needed it," beamed Donal Lenihan, the Lions manager, who had reprimanded Dawson in no uncertain terms on Monday after digesting the player's double-barrelled newspaper attack on Graham Henry and the rest of the coaching team. It was Henry, the chief coach, who gave Dawson the kicking responsibilities ahead of O'Gara because he planned to include the former in his 22 for this weekend's second Test in Melbourne. "I'm delighted he was up to the task," said the New Zealander.

In a superficial sense, the Lions had little to write home about in respect of last night's performance at the beautifully appointed Bruce Stadium. The Brumbies were missing 13 of their optimum Super 12 combination – the Roffs, Larkhams, Gregans and Giffins of this parish are all in Wallaby camp – and they lost their authoritative captain, Jim Williams, with a broken hand after 14 minutes of the second half. Yet they were still able to tear up the Lions' midfield defence on any number of occasions, and had the seriously rapid Graeme Bond completed a clear-cut scoring opportunity towards the end of the opening period, the home side might have turned round 26-3 ahead.

But the reality of the midweek Lions' final outing was more complex. Here was a side written off – lampooned in some quarters – after dismal performances in Gosford and Coffs Harbour; a side full of under-achieving Test regulars who had signally failed to make a pitch for a place in the big boys' line-up. As Henry said: "We were 19-3 down at one point, and I'm not sure many teams would have come off the floor and done the business from there. At half-time, we talked a little about the history and tradition of the Lions, about what the shirt means. And we talked tactics, too, as you have to when you are playing as good and well organised a rugby side as there is in the world."

The Brumbies looked all that and more early on, as Mark Bartholomeusz and Willie Gordon capitalised on intelligent passing and wonderful running angles to cross for tries inside 11 minutes. When Des Tuiavi'i, a Samoan flanker with quite the most breathtaking hairstyle in the union game, added a third after his back row colleague Peter Ryan had blown Balshaw's defence to smithereens, there seemed no obvious way back for the visitors, despite another big turn-out from their red-shirted supporters.

Bond's failure to maximise the opening he had created for himself signalled a change in fortunes, however. Within a minute, Healey had intercepted the otherwise outstanding Pat Howard's floated pass to Bartholomeusz and scuttled well over 50 metres to complete the original 14-point try. David Wallace, who endured a rough first half in the Lions back row but gradually came to terms with the pace of the match, then drove over at the posts following clever approach work from O'Gara, who found his man with a fine pass out of Matthew Weaver's heavyweight tackle.

From there on in, it was all about the two scrum-halves and their kicking duel until Healey intervened for the second time. No one has bust more of a gut on this tour than the Leicester Lip, although he was whingeing about various aspects of the trip while Dawson was still toying with the first lines of his diary. Healey's finish at the fag-end of a compelling contest was of considerable class, for neither Bond nor Cameron Pither could lay a finger on him, despite the tight channel he was exploring. "I'd say he's a livewire player, and pretty good at getting under opponents' skins," said the Brumbies coach, Eddie Jones, admiringly. Coming from a man who is about to succeed Rod Macqueen as Wallaby supremo, there is no greater compliment.

ACT Brumbies: Tries: Bartholomeusz, Gordon, Tuiavi'i; Conversions: Hall 2; Penalties: Hall 3. Lions: Tries: Healey 2, Wallace; Conversions: Dawson 3; Penalties: Dawson 3.

ACT Brumbies: M Bartholomeusz; D McInally, G Bond, J Holbeck, W Gordon; P Howard, T Hall; A Scott, A Freier, M Weaver, J Harrison, D Vickerman, D Tuiavi'i, P Ryan, J Williams (capt). Replacements: D Pusey for Vickerman, 47; R Samo for Williams, 54; C Pither for Gordon, 77; J Huxley for Holbeck, 48.

LIONS: I Balshaw (Bath and England); A Healey (Leicester and England), M Taylor (Swansea and Wales), S Gibbs (Swansea and Wales), B Cohen (Northampton and England); R O'Gara (Munster and Ireland), M Dawson (Northampton and England); D Morris (Swansea and Wales), D West (Leicester and England), D Young (Cardiff and Wales, capt), J Davidson (Ulster and Ireland), S Murray (Saracens and Scotland), D Wallace (Munster and Ireland), M Williams (Cardiff and Wales), M Corry (Leicester and England). Replacement: J Leonard (Harlequins and England) for Young, 77.

Referee: P Marshall (Australia).

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