Lions sharpen teeth in rare full-blooded battle before Wallabies date

Tourists win their most challenging match so far as Gatland bemoans lack of hard tour games

Every silver lining has a big black cloud in the middle of it – any Lions coach will tell you that much – so Warren Gatland was not quite in a state of bliss yesterday, despite the deeply reassuring nature of his team's 22-12 victory over the best of Australia's pre-Test opposition. If Tommy Bowe's busted hand was the obvious negative arising from a match that might have touched the very heights but for the rain that slowed the tempo in the second half, it was far from the only one.

Gatland's most pressing issue has nothing to do with orthopaedics and everything to do with scheduling – something he cannot even begin to address, as it is already set in stone.

"We're two matches light on this tour," he said yesterday. "Another couple of games ahead of the first Test would have been perfect, but we don't have them."

The Lions were craving a proper competitive clash after the slow- motion steam-rollering of the Barbarians in the sweatshop of Hong Kong and the unsatisfactory stroll through the unmanned barricades of Western Force in Perth, and they were granted their wish here. The Reds, driven along at a furious pace by the boldly imaginative Quade Cooper, emptied themselves of ideas, of energy… of pretty much everything they had, only to founder on the twin rocks of the tourists' set-piece game: the scrum, which resulted in a points victory for the men in red, and the line-out, which was a knockout, pure and simple.

"That was the victory, right there," said Gatland, an All Black front- rower of yore who understands that even in "Cooperland", where rugby starts at 100mph and then accelerates, the old rules still apply. "Our scrum was excellent, our line-out defence very strong. I don't think there's been enough recognition of that. We need to give a huge amount of credit to those parts of our game.

"It reminded me of an old- fashioned tour match, with a provincial team coming out and throwing everything at the visitors. We faced a huge barrage in the opening period and had to soak it up. We did that well, I think – I was really happy with the way the blokes in the back line coped, because when you look at their ages we had some real babies out there – and I'm proud of the performance all round. The problem is that we probably won't experience anything like it again. You don't face tough teams all the time on a tour like this, so a couple more lead-in games would have been ideal."

Tomorrow's match a couple of hours down the road in Newcastle is against a "country XV" – by definition, a side drawn from players lower down the evolutionary scale than the Reds brigade – while this weekend's meeting with the New South Wales Waratahs in Sydney will be devalued by the absence of a dozen or more locals, many of them hidden away in the Wallaby camp. The ACT Brumbies should be dangerous enough in Canberra in eight days' time, but by then the Test selection debate will be over.

It follows, then, that those who seized the moment here in Brisbane did themselves a power of good in terms of the crucial discussions ahead. Chief among them were George North, the Welsh wing; Ben Youngs, the England scrum-half; and a couple of red-rose forwards, the loose-head prop Mako Vunipola and the lock Geoff Parling. It may be that of this quartet, only North and Vunipola are favourites for a place against the Wallabies when the roadshow returns to this city in 12 days' time, but at the very least, the others have forced their names on to the agenda.

Parling's mastery of the line-out was at the heart of a victory the Lions hierarchy could not be certain of securing ahead of kick-off, thanks to their wholly commendable but undeniably risky policy of giving every fit member of the 37-man squad a start in the first tranche of fixtures. He also contributed a try-saving tackle on the Reds wing Rod Davies deep in the final quarter, when his second-rower's lungs were just about at bursting point and the home backs were threatening to pull something out of the fire.

As for Youngs, who scored the Lions' only try, there was a range to his game that placed him in a separate category to either of his rivals for the No 9 shirt: Mike Phillips of Wales, the Lions Test incumbent with the route-one style to end them all, and Conor Murray, the Irishman who seems, on the face of it, to have been hacked from the same slab of granite.

"There was a subtlety about Ben's performance – he's a different type to the others, posing a different kind of threat," Gatland said. "That's what you want, isn't it? He's a good leader, confident in his own ability. He really put his hand up."

For all that, the top-of-the-bill acts were Vunipola, the young prop with the old man's face whose game is developing at such velocity on this tour, and North, who replaced the injured Manu Tuilagi at the end of the first quarter and tipped the scales the Lions' way with a series of powerful runs that laid waste to the Reds' prized defensive system. That the Lions scored only one try – and a rather questionable one at that – was almost an insult to the Welshman's performance. Both Owen Farrell and Sam Warburton might easily have taken the opportunities he created for them.

It was the Queenslanders who won the try-count contest, thanks to Luke Morahan's spellbinding solo score early in the first half and Nick Frisby's clever finish after being released by Davies late in the second. But with Farrell – who together with Leigh Halfpenny has yet to miss a shot since setting foot in this country – in prime kicking form, the Lions won where it mattered. If only they could play more games that matter before their first date with the Wallabies.

Queensland Reds: Tries Morahan, Frisby; Conversion Cooper. British and Irish Lions: Try Youngs; Conversion Farrell; Penalties Farrell 5.

Queensland Reds B Lucas; R Davies, B Tapuai, A Fainga'a, L Morahan; Q Cooper (capt), N Frisby; B Daley, J Hanson, G Holmes, A Wallace-Harrison, E O'Donoghue, E Quirk, B Robinson, J Schatz Replacements R Samo for O'Donoghue, 11-18; A Anae for Daley, 22; J Owen for Holmes, 35; D Shipperley for Morahan, 44; M Harris for Fainga'a, 52; J Butler for Robinson, 54; Samo for Wallace-Harrison, 54; J Lance for Frisby, 64; Frisby for Lucas, 69; S Denny for Anae, 76.

British and Irish Lions: S Hogg (Glasgow); A Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues), M Tuilagi (Leicester), J Davies (Scarlets), T Bowe (Ulster); O Farrell (Saracens), B Youngs (Leicester); M Vunipola (Saracens), T Youngs (Leicester), M Stevens (Saracens), R Gray (Sale), G Parling (Leicester), D Lydiate (Newport-Gwent Dragons), S Warburton (Cardiff Blues; capt), T Faletau (Newport-Gwent Dragons). Replacements: G North (Scarlets) for Tuilagi, 19; J Sexton (Leinster) for Bowe, 47; D Cole (Leicester) for Vunipola, 64; R Hibbard (Ospreys) for T Youngs, 64; A Jones (Ospreys) for Stevens, 64; P O'Connell (Munster) for Gray, 64; J Tipuric (Ospreys) for Warburton, 75.

Referee J Garces (Fr).

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
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

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence