British and Irish Lions 2013 match report: Tourists’ future burns bright red after famous triumph in third test against Australia

Australia 16 British and Irish Lions 41

Over the last fortnight, there has been a mighty upheaval in the Wallaby nation: the cricket coach has been sacked; the Prime Minister has been stabbed in the front by her own party colleagues and driven from high office; the rugby union coach is generally assumed to be heading the same way. It seems the least important of these three developments – the one Australians are not discussing in the street – is the second. Sport matters this much to them.

But as the BBC commentator Barry Davies once said of the West Germany hockey team’s demise in the 1988 Olympic final: “Frankly, who cares?” Win or lose, Lions tours are about the Lions – about their status, their meaning, their future. Like taxes and the poor (and to be sure, they were overtaxed and particularly poor in the scrum as the final Test of this captivating series unfolded in Sydney at the weekend), the Wallabies will always be with us, just like the All Blacks and the Springboks. It has not always been obvious that the same applies to the red-shirted collective from the old country.

The Lions needed this series victory in the way a starving man needs nourishment: defeat here, after the row over the sponsor-driven fixture in Hong Kong, the ruck over understrength provincial opposition, the righteous concern over the “beer break” on the Queensland coast and the toxic fallout over the dropping of Brian O’Driscoll, would have left the hierarchy with some difficult questions to answer. As it is, they can crack open a few bottles secure in the knowledge that they have kept the thing alive.

Some hard questions will still be asked: indeed, the admirably composed and highly effective tour manager, Andy Irvine, addressed some of them yesterday. But by beating the Australians in the way they did, with records being broken left, right and centre by a team playing eye-catching rugby drawn straight from the well of Lions tradition, they have reasserted their place at the heart of union matters. The World Cup in England in 2015 will be bigger and brasher, but precious few purists will expect it to be more brightly coloured – or, for that matter, better in any way than this tour.

Support for this view was provided by the England prop Alex Corbisiero, whose contribution on the loose-head side of the scrum prompted the coach, Warren Gatland, to single him out as the man of the match ahead of Leigh Halfpenny, the Wales full-back who scored 21 points – a Test record for a Lion – and helped create match-winning tries for Jonathan Sexton and George North in the second half.

“I’m a bit lost for words,” said the 24-year-old forward after a wrecking-ball performance of such potency, both physical and technical, that his direct opponent, Ben Alexander, was off the field and back in the hutch long before the interval. “It’s the best day of my life and I’m just grateful to have achieved something like this,” Corbisiero said. “It will definitely be a highlight of my career because there is no tomorrow as a Lion, no next year. It may never happen again for you. Who knows? A lot of us might not be here in four years’ time. Alun Wyn Jones said this one game was an opportunity for us to wear the shirt for ever and that was our mentality.”

Jones was the first stand-in captain in more than a century to lead the Lions to a series victory and he said all the right things at all the right times. There were moments in the middle of the game when the tourists needed a clear head and a guiding hand, and the Ospreys lock provided them, as well as winning his personal battle with the Wallaby captain, James Horwill, with whom he had developed such an interesting relationship over the course of the series.

Not that the man from Swansea needed to be at his most tactically astute when it came to unleashing Halfpenny on the hosts. “When I spoke to Leigh before the game and asked him for his goal-kicking range, he told me, ‘Halfway, either side of the field’. I just said: ‘OK.’ It meant Australia had to be whiter than white whenever they were in the ‘grey zone’ as well as the ‘red zone’. And they knew it, too.”

Corbisiero, Jones, Halfpenny; these were the men principally responsible for a victory that reduced Horwill to a giant reservoir of sobs and snuffles – there may not be another captain in international rugby who takes defeat so personally – and left Robbie Deans, the Australians’ head coach, in P45 territory. These three, and one other. Step forward Toby Faletau, drafted into the back row ahead of Jamie Heaslip, the Irishman who had played five straight Lions Tests as first-choice No 8.

It was the Tongan-born Welshman’s stealing of possession in front of his own sticks midway through the third quarter that did most to stem a Wallaby tide that was threatening to sweep the tourists away. More than that, it allowed the Lions to move upfield in the blink of an eye and establish the position from which Sexton would score down the left from Halfpenny’s horizontally delivered pass. “That was the game,” agreed Andy Farrell, the Lions defence coach, who had suffered more than most at the hands of the Australians during a long career in rugby league. “I’ve waited 25 years for this,” he added.

Faletau’s introduction would have been the supreme expression of the selector’s art had not Gatland made a number of other choices every bit as good. A starting place for Corbisiero instead of Mako Vunipola? Spot on. Richard Hibbard for Tom Youngs at hooker? Even Youngs, close to exhausted at the fag end of a phenomenal first campaign at Test level, considered this to be a sensible call. Sean O’Brien in the breakaway role for the stricken Sam Warburton? No one put in more of a shift. Jamie Roberts for the revered O’Driscoll? Look at the scoresheet.

The one so-so performance was delivered by Mike Phillips at scrum-half, but it was the Welshman who prepared the ground for Corbisiero’s early try and tackled himself to a standstill when the Wallabies came surging back in the grim minutes either side of the interval. And when Gatland withdrew him with half an hour left, Conor Murray of Ireland played his best rugby of the tour off the bench. Sometimes, things just fall into place.

“All those people who criticised the selection missed the story,” Gatland remarked. “The story wasn’t the team who started the game; the story was the team who ended it.” The coach had long been convinced that if he could hurt the Wallabies anywhere, it was at the set piece, with the boot and at substitution time. In all those areas, as in so many others, he was proved right.

Whether or not the next coach, whoever he may be, is proved correct again in his decision-making in New Zealand in four years’ time is a very moot point: when it really matters, no one makes an All Black pack look like a bunch of Wallabies. But we can at least say the Lions have earned themselves another shot at the ultimate prize. It will be, as it almost always is, fun watching them go after it.

Australia: Try O’Connor; Conversion Leali’ifano; Penalties Leali’ifano 3. British & Irish Lions: Tries Corbisiero, Sexton, North, Roberts; Conversions Halfpenny 3; 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), G Smith (ACT Brumbies), W Palu (NSW Waratahs). Replacements: M Hooper (NSW Waratahs) for Smith, 4-9 and 66; J Mogg (ACT Brumbies) for Folau, 26; S Kepu (NSW Waratahs) for Smith, 26; Smith for Alexander, 35; S Fainga’a (Queensland Reds) for Moore, 54-61 and 72; B McCalman (Western Force) for Palu, 59; R Simmons (Queensland Reds) for Robinson, 61; J Slipper (Queensland Reds) for Robinson, 66; N Phipps (Melbourne Rebels) for Genia, 69.

British & Irish Lions: L Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues); T Bowe (Ulster), J Davies (Scarlets), J Roberts (Cardiff Blues), G North (Scarlets); J Sexton (Leinster), M Phillips (Bayonne); A Corbisiero (London Irish), R Hibbard (Ospreys), A Jones (Ospreys), A W Jones (Ospreys, capt), G Parling (Leicester), D Lydiate (Newport-Gwent Dragons), S O’Brien (Leinster), T Faletau (Newport-Gwent Dragons). Replacements: T Youngs (Leicester) for Hibbard, 47; C Murray (Munster) for Phillips, 50; D Cole (Leicester) for A Jones, 54; J Tipuric (Ospreys) for Faletau, 54; Faletau for O’Brien, 59; O Farrell (Saracens) for Sexton, 62; M Vunipola (Saracens) for Corbisiero, 67; R Gray (Sale) for Parling, 67; M Tuilagi (Leicester) for Roberts, 72.

Referee R Poite (France).

News
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleThe idea has been greeted enthusiastically by the party's MPs
News
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
people
Voices
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012
voicesAnd nobody from Ukip said babies born to migrants should be classed as migrants, says Nigel Farage
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
News
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
people
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
News
Brazilian football legend Pele pictured in 2011
peopleFans had feared the worst when it was announced the Brazil legand was in a 'special care' unit
News
i100(More than you think)
Sport
Brendan Rodgers seems more stressed than ever before as Liverpool manager
FOOTBALLI like Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
News
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
News
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Sport
Benjamin Stambouli celebrates his goal for Tottenham last night
FOOTBALL
Life and Style
Dishing it out: the head chef in ‘Ratatouille’
food + drinkShould UK restaurants follow suit?
News
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
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

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game