Extraordinary Joe flattens the Lions

Australia 35 The Lions 14
Click to follow
The Independent Online

The working title of Graham Henry's book of the tour is Henry's Pride: Lions Down Under, and it promises to be "the ultimate fly-on-the-wall account of their quest for global victory''. It could yet be renamed Up Dawson's Creek Without A Paddle.

The Lions, following their wonderful victory in the First Test at the Gabba in Brisbane, expected a different proposition here and they got it. Unfortunately, forewarned did not mean forearmed as the Wallabies won by a goal, two tries and six penalties to a try and three penalties, levelling the three Test series at 1-1 and setting up the decider at Stadium Australia in Sydney next Saturday. With Matt Burke scoring 25 points and Joe Roff two tries, the Wallabies achieved a record victory, surpassing the 30-12 success in the First Test in 1989.

To add injury to insult, Jonny Wilkinson was taken off on a stretcher with a suspected broken leg and three other key players, Robert Howley, Richard Hill and Brian O'Driscoll, were also taken to hospital. The Wallabies were also wounded, losing Andrew Walker with a fractured cheekbone.

The fall and rise of the Wallabies was remarkable even by their standards. In seven days they not only regrouped but worked a minor miracle. In Brisbane, where they suffered the biggest shock to the national psyche since Botham and Willis destroyed them at Headingley, their scrum was squeezed to death and their line-out collapsed. Here, the reverse was true.

Martin Johnson and Danny Grewcock were given all sorts of problems by the revitalised John Eales and David Giffin, and one Lions scrummage was obliterated to such an extent that it resulted in a try for the Wallabies.

At that point the world champions were displaying the sort of form that had seen them win everything worth winning over the last three seasons. What their coach, Rod Macqueen, hasn't got, of course, is the head of a lion on his wall.

That will be his final goal as last night he announced he will step down after the third Test next weekend and not, as expected, after the forthcoming Tri-Nations series with New Zealand and South Africa. Macqueen made his announcement to the players following last night's victory. He will be succeeded by Eddie Jones, who coached the ACT Brumbies to the Super 12 title this season and Australia A to success over the Lions.

The first match between Australia and the tourists was played during the reign of Queen Victoria in 1899. In the state which bears her name, the Wallabies recorded only their fourth victory in 18 Tests against the combined might of Britain and Ireland, and that it arrived in a city obsessed by Australian Rules football was all the more gratifying for the Australian Rugby Union.

In Brisbane the Wallabies were bushwhacked not only by the style and pace of the Lions but by the sheer weight of support of visiting fans, who made the tourists feel at home. Here the Australians did everything short of resurrecting Ned Kelly to paint the magnificent stadium gold and raise the roof, which was, in fact, closed to the elements.

Back in Blighty, the country had already seen two role models in Steve Waugh and Pat Rafter, and the latter was shown on the giant video screens, sending a message of support from Wimbledon.

Yet for 40 minutes or so before a crowd of 56,000, the Lions looked in control. Indeed they began where they had left off in Brisbane, Dafydd James finding a beautiful angle to burst through midfield in only the third minute. He was in the clear but, with Jason Robinson on his right, failed to deliver what should have been a scoring pass. It would not be the only opportunity squandered by the Lions as they enjoyed by far the better of the first half.

At least, they should have enjoyed it, but instead of going in with a decent lead, it was 11-6. Wilkinson opened with a penalty in the seventh minute and swiftly added another. Burke tried one from halfway and had the distance but not the accuracy before Howley fell offside at a scrum in front of his posts and Burke landed the goal. That came from rare foray by Australia into Lions territory.

O'Driscoll breached the defence but before he could capitalise was downed by George Smith, and then the Irish centre executed a brilliant kick and catch. O'Driscoll fell awkwardly on his neck and appeared to be seriously injured. However, while he was down the Lions maintained their charge.

Wilkinson put in a clever kick to the left-hand corner where, for reasons known only to himself, Hill was in attendance and threatening. The flanker was only denied by a desperate Walker, who scrambled the ball into touch. From the line-out Grewcock secured possession, the pack drove and Neil Back gained the touch down – just like Leicester Tigers. Wilkinson missed the conversion but the Lions were 11-3 in front and looking good.

There followed storming runs by the outstanding Scott Quinnell and Keith Wood which made serious inroads, but again the Lions could not finish off the approach work. Burke kicked his second penalty to cut the deficit to five points before Wilkinson failed with an attempt at the other end.

A measure of the Lions' strength in the first half is that they put in 27 tackles to the Wallabies' 60. But the opening of the second half was a nightmare not only for the Lions but for Wilkinson.

The half was only 32 seconds old when Wilkinson, 30 yards from his own line, had a pass intercepted by Roff, and he made it to the left-hand corner despite O'Driscoll's tackle. Burke added a penalty, and worse was to follow when a Lions scrum was driven off the ball and Roff beat James and then Robinson for try number two. In the space of eight minutes the Wallabies scored 15 points, and from being 11-6 down were 21-11 in front.

Although Wilkinson managed a penalty, the rest of the half belonged to the Wallabies and Burke. The full-back scored their third try after 66 minutes, going through Iain Balshaw and Robinson after Owen Finegan had made the initial thrust.

By now the Lions had lost their shape and discipline, and Burke proceeded to punish them. As the casualties mounted, Rob Henderson and Quinnell did their best to redress the balance with late tackles on Stephen Larkham.

It had looked like being a tour de force for the Lions. Now it looks as if the force is with the Wallabies.

Australia 35 The Lions 14

Tries: Roff 2, Burke, Try: Back

Con: Burke, Pens: Wilkinson 3

Pens: Burke 6

Half-time: 6-11 Attendance: 56,605

Australia: M Burke (New South Wales); A Walker (ACT), D Herbert (Queensland), N Grey (NSW), J Roff (ACT); S Larkham (ACT), G Gregan (ACT); N Stiles (Queensland), M Foley (Queensland), R Moore (NSW), D Giffin (ACT), J Eales (Queensland, capt), O Finegan (ACT), T Kefu (Queensland), G Smith (ACT). Replacements: C Latham (Queensland) for Walker, 47; M Cockbain (Queensland) for Giffin, 72; E Flatley (Queensland) for Larkham, 80; B Cannon (New South Wales) for Foley, 80.

British and Irish Lions: M Perry (Bath and England); D James (Bridgend and Wales), B O'Driscoll (Leinster and Ireland), R Henderson (Munster and Ireland), J Robinson (Sale and England); J Wilkinson (Newcastle and England), R Howley (Cardiff and Wales); T Smith (Northampton and Scotland), K Wood (Harlequins and Ireland), P Vickery (Gloucester and England), M Johnson (Leicester and England, capt), D Grewcock (Bath and England), R Hill (Saracens and England), S Quinnell (Llanelli and Wales), N Back (Leicester and England). Replacements: M Corry (Leicester) for Hill, 40; I Balshaw (Bath) for Perry, 51; J Leonard (Harlequins) for Vickery, 67; N Jenkins (Cardiff ) for Wilkinson, 74; M Dawson (Northampton) for Howley, 80.

Referee: J Kaplan (South Africa).