It is one of the mad ironies of rugby that a Lions Test of ebb and flow, bash and sashay, and 43 players whose every aching moment is dedicated to standing up for their mates should come down to one kick by one man. Kurtley Beale's final-minute penalty attempt to win the match for Australia transported him out of the ultimate team game into the loneliness of the long-distance goal-kicker. His miss and the manner of it, as his standing left leg slipped from under him and he fell flat on his back on the spiteful Suncorp Stadium turf, joined the horrible history of defeats settled in a single act.
Fire in the heart, ice in the veins… egg on the face. Beale had begun the day on the bench, as Australia's third-choice kicker at best. His entire participation in the series had been in doubt due to his off-field issues with brawling and booze. On the flipside, he was not a complete novice thrust into an unfamiliar milieu. In 2010 Beale converted a long-range kick to win an amazing Test in South Africa, 41-39. And in this, his 37th Test, he had already banged over a monster penalty on 62 minutes, and another from shorter range seven minutes later, to keep his injury-ravaged team within two points.
But Beale missed in the 76th and then – after a scrum went calamitously wrong for the Lions four metres inside their half – came the big one. The kick was bound to need a degree of oomph. The referee, Chris Pollock, studiously stymied Beale's subtle attempt to nudge the tee forwards. The pitch was, in racing terminology, much closer to soft than good. As Beale swung his right boot so his left skidded and shot away. With direction and momentum lost, the ball traced a miserable trajectory hopelessly short and wide of the posts.
As Beale hauled himself up, to be quickly enveloped in the consoling arms of team-mates, the mind's eye flickered to images of John Terry, the Chelsea captain confounded by a similar slip when he had a penalty to win the Champions' League in 2008; to David Beckham, glaring at an offending divot in Euro 2004 in one of England's many shoot-out failures; and all the way back to Don Fox and the nonpareil of missed kicks, a conversion for Wakefield that would have won the 1968 rugby league Challenge Cup final at rain-sodden Wembley.
"He's a poor lad," Eddie Waring said in the immortal TV commentary. "The poor lad…what a moment to live with." So it will be for Beale. But Australia will know the Lions – who were beaten by Morne Steyn's penalty at the end of the crucial Second Test in 2009 – were much better.
Leigh Halfpenny came in with 23 kicks out of 24 on this tour, and though the Cardiff Blue missed once with an overdone whack, it merely emphasised his booming confidence. By contrast the Wallabies were in hit-and-hope territory, from losing their first-choice marksman, Christian Leali'ifano, to injury, then James O'Connor's woeful efforts and another possible kicker, Berrick Barnes, going off. Halfpenny's five from six versus Australia's four from nine told the tale, even if poor Beale was lumbered with the most memorable footnote.
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