James Lawton on British and Irish Lions tour: Roar power can secure series for tourists

Melbourne win would have flattered tourists who still have much to do to stand out of the shadows of greats of the past

Lions are supposed to roar, aren't they? Win or lose, they are not expected to lie in the tall grass weighing all their options – and certainly not hoping to sneak away with something.

Unfortunately, and especially in view of all the hype concerning the epic nature of the challenge Down Under, that would have been the extent of their achievement had they arrived in Sydney this week with the series won.

If Leigh Halfpenny had found a few more yards on top of his other-worldly consistency, he would no doubt be a sporting giant acclaimed almost on a par with Wimbledon sweetheart Laura Robson. But if Halfpenny is a proven, magnificent operator in an extremely tough arena, he would still have been authoring a Lions victory that scarcely reached knee-high to those created by Barry John in 1971 and Willie John McBride three years later.

They were triumphs in New Zealand and South Africa that owed everything to the belligerent belief that the best of their game would be decisively better than that delivered by the southern hemisphere powerhouses.

The Aussie team that won in Melbourne, and now has everything to play for this Saturday, will never be regarded as a powerhouse. Eccentrically assembled by the embattled coach Robbie Deans, largely hidden away before the first Test in Brisbane, these are Wallabies who have the extraordinary brilliance of scrum-half Will Genia and the exciting potential of Israel Folau and, most threateningly going into the crunch game, that old Aussie inclination to take the battle to the other fellows. But man for man, aura for aura, the truth is they should already be dead and buried.

If they were indeed so, if Halfpenny's kick had picked up a few yards more buoyancy, the defining image of the Lions' triumph would have the brisk and brilliant one of the full-back going about his work so coolly. This, though, would have not have captured best the inherent strength and dimension of Warren Gatland's tourists.

Such a picture was already being flashed around the rugby world. It was of George North, the single most potent weapon in his team's armoury, carrying both the ball and his rival Folau over his shoulder, in a statement of competitive rage and nerve which has so rarely surfaced when the Lions have the ball in their hands.

Defensively, we have seen soul-stirring grandeur. Sam Warburton had already shown much character in fighting injury and leading his team to their first Test victory. On Saturday, his impact before new and deeply worrying injury was little less than monstrous in repelling the more ambitious running Wallabies.

So too was that of his compatriot Dan Lydiate. Brian O'Driscoll has been Herculean in his attempt to stop the Aussies at the pass. The Lions have been resilient in the face of injuries, and dismaying problems at the front of the scrum and in the line-out, but when have they taken the fight to the enemy? It was done most dramatically when in Brisbane North gathered in a kick and then ran for the line with a sublime combination of speed, power and judgement.

If anything ever offered a team an early opportunity to take another look at itself and its greatest strength, this was surely it. Yet a week on, North was required to make a statement of wrath, even indignation, that was almost biblical.

He spent most of his time watching the Australians seeking ways to release their most talented players. In the meantime, Halfpenny routinely slotted his penalties – even if the worry was strong that there wouldn't be enough of them – and the Lions resolved to hang on.

They elected to defend a one-score advantage – a decision that was brittle to the point of inviting self-destruction. So what does Gatland do now once he has checked his MASH unit medical room?

One argument, which is certainly approved of in this quarter, is that the coach puts rather more faith in the players who did so well for him in the last World Cup and then grew again last season when they powered their way, with coruscating force, to the Six Nations title. Yes, we're talking about the Welsh players who gathered so much momentum on their way to eviscerating England at the Millennium Stadium. It was a performance built on ferocious forward power and superbly augmented by killing finish at the try-line.

Ever since the Lions squad was selected, the impact of that one-off slaughter has been dwindling, partly because of finely drawn debates over the merits of say, the extrovert game of Ireland's No 8 Jamie Heaslip and the awesome productivity of his Welsh rival Toby Faletau.

In the blizzard of selection revisionism following Saturday's defeat, one leading aficionado makes the case for no less than 11 Welshmen in the Sydney showdown. Assuming Jamie Roberts and Warburton are fit, this team would read: Halfpenny, Bowe, Davies, Roberts, North, Sexton, Phillips, Corbisiero, Hibbard, Adam Jones, Gray, Alun Wyn Jones, Lydiate, Warburton, Faletau. This, it is true, is an awful lot of Welshmen but then it is also an awful lot of team. Certainly, there could be no inclination to diminish its potential in the wake of that extraordinary performance against England – or at the World Cup in New Zealand, where the Welsh impact was nothing less than riveting.

The Welsh had a unity of purpose, a perspective on their strengths, which became an increasing source of certainty, and this is something which may be worth remem-bering now that the Australians, for all their own imperfections, are showing a much surer instinct for what they are trying to do.

It is, basically, enough to attack, and to keep on doing it until they get their rewards.

By comparison, the Lions have been content to wait in the bushes and it is a state of affairs that has clearly created widespread frustration, not least in the attacking icon O'Driscoll. He admitted that the Lions, thus far, haven't shown much.

But then doing so is not so easy when you spend so much of your time in the long grass.

News
Patrick Stewart in the classiest ice bucket to date
peopleSir Patrick took a more understated approach to the challenge
News
The current recommendation from Britain's Chief Medical Officer, is that people refrain from drinking on at least two days a week
scienceTheory is that hangovers are caused by methanol poisoning
Arts and Entertainment
tvWe have created an infogaphic that looks back over the previous incarnations of the Doctor
Sport
Olivier Giroud celebrates after his late goal saved Arsenal a point at Goodison Park
football Giroud rescues a point for Arsenal after they trailed by two goals
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
News
newsComedian Lee Hurst started trend with first tweet using the hashtag
News
i100
News
Australian rapper Iggy Azalea was left red faced but, thankfully, unhurt after taking a few too many steps backwards, sending her tumbling off the stage.
people
Life and Style
A nearly completed RoboThespian robot inside the Engineered Arts workshop is tested in Penryn, England. The Cornish company, operating from an industrial unit near Falmouth, is the world's only maker of commercially available life sized humanoid robots
techSuper-intelligent robots could decide destroying the human race is the kindest thing to do
Life and Style
techConcept would see planes coated in layer of micro-sensors and able to sense wear and tear
News
scienceExcitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
News
newsRyan Crighton goes in search of the capo dei capi
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
News
i100
Extras
indybest

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

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition