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.

BUY RUGBY WORLD CUP TICKETS

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones