Australia vs British and Irish Lions 2013 second test - match report: Red-shirted defiance not enough if Lions want to make history

Australia 16 Lions 15: Lesson from narrow Melbourne defeat is talented Wallabies side will not be beaten by keeping it tight and hoping

This is where it gets difficult. Unimaginably difficult. Only twice in 112 years have the Lions clinched a series against a major southern hemisphere power by prevailing in the final Test, and as the first example was back in the 19th century, it is safe to say that Warren Gatland's tourists will be flying in the face of history when they meet the Wallabies in Sydney this weekend. All things considered, it might be easier for a unicyclist to win the Tour de France.

The good news? On both said occasions, they pulled the last-Test trick here in Australia, most recently in 1989, when Finlay Calder and his fighting pack of lawyers and police officers stared down the home side and took the spoils by a single point, aided and abetted by an infamous piece of cock-uppery from the great David Campese, of all people on God's rugby earth. Can it conceivably happen this time, now that the Wallabies have their tails up and the Lions are suffering the body-count from hell? It is a big ask, for sure.

Optimists will point to the fact that Australia's most creative backs, James O'Connor and his fellow "bad-boy amigo" Kurtley Beale, are a long way short of their best – that their combined failure to shape a game to the liking of the astonishing new wing sensation Israel Folau gives the Lions, resilient as they are, a degree of hope. Yet pessimists will insist, quite rightly, that if the O'Connor-Beale axis at 10 and 15 had worked more smoothly at the weekend, the Wallabies might have won by plenty, rather than by a measly, miserable point.

That the Lions went so close to closing out a series for the first time in 16 years was down to two things, and two things only: the profligacy of the Australian midfield decision-makers, and their own mighty performance in defence. As the second half of a neurotic encounter unfolded – there was nothing of the free-running extravaganza we witnessed in the Brisbane Test; just a hard, unbearably tense exercise in zero-sum rugby – images of Durban 1997 invaded the mind's eye. On that triumphant night of nights in Natal, the Lions tackled their hearts out and trusted to luck that the Springboks would mess up, which they duly did. This time, under similar circumstances, the Wallabies were almost as generous, but not quite.

Not until six minutes from time did they get it absolutely right with ball in hand, but when they did, they were lethal. Folau's long-limbed slink into the Lions' 22, Sekope Kepu's drive into the soft underbelly of the red-shirted line, Will Genia's instinctive recognition of possibilities going left, O'Connor's delayed pass, Adam Ashley-Cooper's ruthless finish, Christian Leali'ifano's supremely confident conversion… under the circumstances, it was a try worthy of its rewards.

"You have to push the envelope in order to win," the Wallaby coach, Robbie Deans, said yesterday, after a blissful night's sleep. "We'll never beat a side as able and experienced as these Lions without chancing our arm, so it's down to the decisions players make in the moment. There's a tipping point: we may have made errors early in the game but we also asked a lot at that stage, and the demands you're prepared to make of yourself can be the difference at the end. You have to keep asking, keep probing. When it came down to it, we got the job done."

As a summary of the difference between the two sides, this was just about spot-on. As Jonathan Sexton, the Lions outside-half, hinted immediately after the game, teams who set out to beat the Wallabies by playing anti-rugby – by simply squeezing and tackling and eking out tiny territorial gains and kicking penalties as and when they arise – will lose as often as they win. Far more often, probably.

"There was a lot of emotion about us, but there's a balance we need to strike between emotion and performance," said the Dubliner, who invariably presses more attacking buttons for Leinster and Ireland than he did for the Lions in this game. "There's no point being the most passionate team if you can't execute, if you can't get set-piece ball and finish your tries. At times, we were wishing the game would end rather than going after it. That's how I felt, anyway."

That the Lions had a kick to win it at the death, just like the Wallabies in Brisbane, is a matter of fact, but Leigh Halfpenny's shot was even more demanding than Beale's had been seven days previously and while the Welshman did not shank it a la Kurtley, it was just about his worst strike of the trip. In truth, the tourists were no worthier of victory here than the Australians would have been first up.

Their set-piece work was below par: Mako Vunipola's travails on the loose-head side of the front row prompted the Wallabies to scrum free-kicks and penalties as early as the 13th minute, an example of rugby through the looking glass if ever there was one. Life was not so good at the line-out either, as Geoff Parling, the England lock making the decisions in this crucial department on his first Test start as a Lion, confessed. One attacking line-out late in the game, stolen by the substitute Wallaby back-rower Liam Gill, really hurt the tourists. "It was a shit call by me," Parling lamented. "It was my responsibility, so it's hard to take."

His opposite number, the highly accomplished Wallaby captain James Horwill, had no such regrets, although he was sufficiently alarmed at the profligacy of his back division to give O'Connor and Beale a piece of his mind. "We pushed too many passes, tried to throw too many miracle balls," he complained. "We have to be better than that. We must learn to look after possession." There again, the amigos were at least trying to create something. Both wings, Folau and the impressive newcomer Joe Tomane, had their moments, which was more than could be said for Tommy Bowe and George North.

Maybe the Lions would have won but for the absences of the inside centre Jamie Roberts and the scrum-half Mike Phillips; the injuries that deprived them of two key tight-forwards in the prop Alex Corbisiero and the lock Paul O'Connell. On the other hand, might not the Wallabies have prevailed in Brisbane had they not lost three backs to the stretcher-bearers and ended up with a flanker in midfield and a scrum-half on the wing?

When someone suggested to Sexton that to win in Sydney, the Lions would have to do more than kick goals, the Irishman nodded in agreement. You could see his point. With Folau at his scariest, Genia at his most majestic and the O'Connor-Beale link likely to be better for another savagely hard hit-out, the Wallabies will almost certainly cross the whitewash. Do the tourists have it in their make-up to respond in kind? Now, there's a question.

Australia: Try Ashley-Cooper; Conversion Leali'ifano. Penalties Leali'ifano 3. British & Irish Lions: Penalties Halfpenny 5.

Australia: K Beale (Melbourne Rebels); I Folau (NSW Waratahs), A Ashley-Cooper (NSW Waratahs), C Leali'ifano (ACT Brumbies), J Tomane (ACT Brumbies); J O'Connor (Melbourne Rebels), W Genia (Queensland Reds); B Robinson (NSW Waratahs), S Moore (ACT Brumbies), B Alexander (ACT Brumbies), K Douglas (NSW Waratahs), J Horwill (Queensland Reds; capt), B Mowen (ACT Brumbies), M Hooper (NSW Waratahs), W Palu (NSW Waratahs). Replacements: R Simmons (Queensland Reds) for Douglas, 52; S Kepu (NSW Waratahs) for Alexander, 58; J Slipper (Queensland Reds) for Robinson, 60-76; L Gill (Queensland Reds) for Palu, 60; R Horne (NSW Waratahs) for Ashley-Cooper, 77.

British & Irish Lions: L Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues); T Bowe (Ulster), B O'Driscoll (Leinster), J Davies (Scarlets), G North (Scarlets); J Sexton (Leinster), B Youngs (Leicester); M Vunipola (Saracens), T Youngs (Leicester), A Jones (Ospreys), A W Jones (Ospreys), G Parling (Leicester), D Lydiate (Newport Gwent-Dragons), S Warburton (Cardiff Blues; capt), J Heaslip (Leinster). Replacements: C Murray (Munster) for B Youngs, 53; R Hibbard (Ospreys) for T Youngs, 55; D Cole (Leicester) for A Jones, 58; S O'Brien (Leinster) for Heaslip, 63; T Croft (Leicester) for Warburton, 66.

Referee C Joubert (SA).

Decision days: the other Lions series that went down to the wire

1903: South Africa

Johnny Hammond's team visited South Africa for the third time for a three-match series. After draws in the first two Tests, 10-10 in Johannesburg and 0-0 in Kimberley, the series was decided in Cape Town, where the hosts won 8-0.

1910: South Africa

The Lions' next visit to South Africa also went down to the last of three Tests. After losing the Johannesburg opener 14-10, an 8-3 victory in Port Elizabeth set up another Cape Town showdown, where the South Africans scored four tries in a 21-5 victory.

1989: Australia

In the Lions' first Australia-only tour for 90 years, Ian McGeechan's side lost 30-12 in Sydney before levelling the series in Brisbane with a 19-12 triumph. The turnaround was completed back in Sydney, the tourists, captained by Finlay Calder, becoming the first Lions team to win a series after losing the first Test as they prevailed 19-18.

1993: New Zealand

Again coached by McGeechan, the Lions lost 20-18 in Christchurch before levelling a fortnight later with a 20-7 triumph in Wellington. A captain's performance in Auckland from Sean Fitzpatrick then led the All Blacks to a comfortable 30-13 win for the series.

2001: Australia

The outcome of the Lions' last series in Australia was unclear until the final match – and this tour has so far taken a similar course to 12 years ago. Jason Robinson and Brian O'Driscoll tries set up a 29-13 win in the Brisbane opener but Australia, then world champions, enjoyed a 35-14 win in Melbourne. Graham Henry's side then lost 29-23 in the Sydney decider.

ROSS GREGORY

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
News
i100
News
Prince Harry is clearing enjoying the Commonwealth Games judging by this photo
people(a real one this time)
Extras
indybest
News
Richard Norris in GQ
mediaGQ features photo shoot with man who underwent full face transplant
Sport
Lionel Messi looks on at the end of the final
football
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Your picture is everything in the shallow world of online dating
i100
News
The Swiss Re tower or 'Gherkin' was at one time the UK’s most expensive office when German bank IVG and private equity firm Evans Randall bought it
news
Life and Style
Attractive women on the Internet: not a myth
techOkCupid boasts about Facebook-style experiments on users
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
football
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on