Australia v The Lions: Honours end even in clash of two titans

George North and Israel Folau add a compelling rivalry to the spectacle

George North, a cross between a bull and a ballet dancer, scored one of the great Lions tries in a First Test of unremitting tension and ferocity. Panic running, he called it. The rest of the rugby world was enraptured by its grace and beauty, his combination of power and dexterity.

Israel Folau did not deserve to finish on the losing side. He scored two tries of comparable quality, examples of muscularity and suppleness at speed. He also denied North a second try with a goal-line tackle of blind desperation and raw strength.

The tone of this series has been set. Though the most fabled rivalries in sport are shaped by differences in style and demeanour – think Leonard against Duran, Ali against Frazier, Senna against Prost, Nicklaus against Palmer – theirs will be fuelled by their similarity

North and Folau are the type of players to whom the unconverted can relate. Rugby union is a game of arcane laws, interpreted selectively depending upon whether it is staged in the southern or northern hemisphere. Yet when big men are thrown together there is a disarming simplicity to the challenge and a compelling drama to the spectacle.

These two are finishers, pure and simple, men who can think clearly and act positively under the most intense pressure. Each has a Ferrari engine beneath the bonnet of an armour-plated Hummer. Their fast feet and sinuous body movement is mesmerising. Their collisions had a cartoon intensity that statistics could not reflect.

It seems inconceivable that North ran only 65 metres with the ball in hand – the most by any Lion, but at odds with the sequence of mental images he created. Folau marked his rugby union debut for Australia by carrying the ball for 107 metres. Already we are wondering about the relative merits of nature and nurture.

North was born in King's Lynn to a Welsh mother and English father, an airman who took the family to Hong Kong for the first two years of George's life. His progress has been spectacular but conventional, in that his code is embedded in his community. His promise, illustrated by a try-scoring debut for Wales at the age of 18, has been quickly realised.

Folau was born in New South Wales to parents of Tongan descent. At 24 he is three years older, half an inch taller and two stones lighter than the Lions wing. He is an athlete of remarkable versatility, the only Australian to have represented his country in both rugby codes and also to have played Australian Rules football at the highest level.

In rugby league, he scored five tries in seven games for Australia, five in five games for Queensland and 37 from 38 games for Brisbane Broncos. He has crossed for eight tries in 14 games for the NSW Waratahs in less than five months of Super 15 rugby union.

The pair's importance to their respective teams cannot be overstated. North's recovery from a hamstring injury effectively involved dismantling his body clock. He received ice treatment every two hours for 72 hours in the build-up to what was universally acknowledged as a critically important First Test.

Folau's significance grows, because of the physical and mental toll of yesterday's defeat on the Wallabies. He was involved in the game's most worrying moment, when North unintentionally propelled him head first into team-mate Berrick Barnes. The Australian full-back, who has a history of concussion problems, was caught flush on the chin by Folau's head. In an age in which player welfare rightly assumes primary importance, it is surely unlikely that Barnes will play again in this series.

It was the sort of game in which tacklers had the durability of crash-test dummies and the mentality of fighter pilots. Adam Ashley-Cooper, a fixture of Wallabies teams since 2005, attempted to play on after having a dislocated shoulder wrenched back into place.

But bravery is not merely a physical act. Folau owed his opening try, from his first touch of the ball, to Will Genia having the courage to trust his instincts and take a tap penalty inside his own 22 before embarking on a jinking, 60-metre run. That required the sort of nerve which was found wanting in Kurtley Beale, with such debilitating consequences.

So what went through North's mind when he claimed a Barnes kick on his own 10-metre line and put his 17-stone frame through the gears? "Run hard, and hopefully the gaps will open."

Simple and memorably effective.

Voices
Numbers of complaints about unwanted calls have trebled in just six months
voices
News
people
Arts & Entertainment
Picture of innocence: Ricky Gervais and Karl Pilkington in ‘Derek’
tvReview: The insights of Ricky Gervais's sweet and kind character call to mind Karl Pilkington's faux-naïf podcast observations
Arts & Entertainment
Tangled up in blue: Singer-songwriter Judith Owen
musicAnd how husband Harry Shearer - of Spinal Tap and The Simpsons fame - helped her music flourish
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Paul Weller: 'I am a big supporter of independent record stores but the greedy touts making a fast buck off genuine fans is disgusting'
music
Arts & Entertainment
William Shakespeare's influence on English culture is still strongly felt today, from his plays on stage to words we use everyday
arts
Sport
Karim Benzema celebrates scoring the opening goal
sportReal Madrid 1 Bayern Munich 0: Germans will need their legendary self-belief to rescue Champions League tie in second leg
Life & Style
Looking familiar: The global biometrics industry is expected to grow to $20bn by 2020
tech
Sport
Manchester United manager David Moyes has claimed supporters understand the need to look at
sportScot thanks club staff and fans, but gives no specific mention of players
News
Strange 'quack' noises could be undersea chatter of Minke whales
science
News
weird news... and film it, obviously
Life & Style
Balancing act: City workers at the launch of Cityfathers
lifeThe organisation is the brainchild of Louisa Symington-Mills who set up Citymothers in 2012 - a group boasting more than 3,000 members
Arts & Entertainment
tv
News
Fresh hope: Ruth Womak and her dog Jess. A free training course in basic computing skills changed Ruth’s life
educationHow a housing association's remarkable educational initiative gave hope to tenant battling long-term illness and depression
News
Rohff is one of France’s most popular rappers
people
News
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Migrants in Britain a decade on: The Poles who brought prosperity

Migrants in Britain a decade on

The Poles who brought prosperity
Philippe Legrain: 'The eurozone crisis has tipped many into disillusionment, despair and extremism - we need a European Spring'

Philippe Legrain: 'We need a European Spring'

The eurozone crisis has tipped many into disillusionment, despair and extremism - this radically altered landscape calls for a new kind of politics, argues the economist
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A moment of glory on the Western Front for the soldiers of the Raj

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A moment of glory on the Western Front for the soldiers of the Raj
Judith Owen reveals how husband Harry Shearer - star of This Is Spinal Tap and The Simpsons - helped her music flourish

Judith Owen: 'How my husband helped my music flourish'

Her mother's suicide and father's cancer also informed the singer-songwriter's new album, says Pierre Perrone
The online lifeline: How a housing association's remarkable educational initiative gave hope to tenant battling long-term illness and depression

Online lifeline: Housing association's educational initiative

South Yorkshire Housing Association's free training courses gave hope to tenant battling long-term illness and depression
Face-recognition software: Is this the end of anonymity for all of us?

Face-recognition software: The end of anonymity?

The software is already used for military surveillance, by police to identify suspects - and on Facebook
Train Kick Selfie Guy is set to scoop up to $250,000 thanks to his viral video - so how can you cash in on your candid moments?

Viral videos: Cashing in on candid moments

Train Kick Selfie Guy Jared Frank could receive anything between $30,000 to $250,000 for his misfortune - and that's just his cut of advertising revenue from being viewed on YouTube
The world's fastest elevators - 20 metres per second - are coming soon to China

World's fastest elevators coming soon to China

Whatever next? Simon Usborne finds out from Britain's highest authority on the subject
Cityfathers tackles long-hours culture that causes men to miss out on seeing their children

Cityfathers tackles long-hours culture

The organisation is the brainchild of Louisa Symington-Mills, a chief operating officer who set up Citymothers in 2012 - a group that now boasts more than 3,000 members
Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home

It's not always fun in the sun: Moving abroad does not guarantee happiness

Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home
Migrants in Britain a decade on: They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire

Migrants in Britain a decade on

They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire
Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

The 'Thick of It' favourite thinks the romcom is an 'awful genre'. So why is he happy with a starring role in Sky Living's new Lake District-set series 'Trying Again'?
Why musicians play into their old age

Why musicians play into their old age

Nick Hasted looks at how they are driven by a burning desire to keep on entertaining fans despite risking ridicule
How can you tell a gentleman?

How can you tell a gentleman?

A list of public figures with gallant attributes by Country Life magazine throws a fascinating light on what it means to be a gentleman in the modern world