Lions tour: Genius Will Genia choreographs vital steps in Wallaby waltz
Scrum-half shows leadership and invention to outwit the Lions defence
Big men with bulging biceps do not make a pretty sight when they dissolve into tears, so it felt kinder to leave James Horwill, Australia's captain, and Leigh Halfpenny, the Lions' vanquished goal-kicker, to their emotions at the final whistle of yesterday's error-strewn epic in Melbourne and consider instead the influence of Will Genia.
When the sparky scrum-half booted the ball dead from Halfpenny's brave but off-target kick in the last act of the series-levelling Second Test, he danced like a dervish at the thought of Saturday's decider in Sydney – a match for which Genia, if the widely predicted absence of Horwill due to suspension comes to pass, will probably be skipper.
For Australia's Kurtley Beale and his two missed kicks in the last few minutes of the Lions' two-point First Test win, read Halfpenny this time around. The full-back's first shot was 45 metres out and it hit the bar; his seventh right at the end from a bunny-hop's distance inside his own half dropped short. In between, Halfpenny thumped five penalties through the posts and his tally across this Lions tour had moved on to 32 successes out of 36, but all the spectacular conversions from Perth to Brisbane could not console him in that moment.
Horwill's lachrymation sprang from a different well. The giant lock had been playing on borrowed time, in many observers' eyes, prior to tomorrow's International Rugby Board hearing into how his alleged stamp on Alun Wyn Jones last week had gone unpunished at the first disciplinary examination.
Genia, who has captained Australia before, was overlooked for the honour in this series at the outset, but is well set now in body and mind to take on the challenge.
You could erase the first seven-eighths of yesterday's proceedings from your DVD recording and still be left with enough talking points to fill the next few days, which the Lions will spend on Queensland's Sunshine Coast, trying not to feel under a cloud. They will pitch camp in a town called Noosa, but if anyone steered Australia clear of the hangman's rope it was Genia in the ebb and flow that led to his team's crucial try.
In the 15 phases following a line-out that ended with Adam Ashley-Cooper's relieved tumble over the Lions' line and Christian Leali'ifano's brave conversion, we saw the exemplification of excellence, patience and poise that has been the hallmark of Australian rugby in the past 25 years of two World Cup titles and mostly keeping pace with their southern-hemisphere counterparts, South Africa and New Zealand.
The sequence began – or, more accurately, we can nominate the following as a significant turn of the page in the unfolding story – when the Lions' George North deserted his post in a rash attempt to tackle James O'Connor.
The latter had found it difficult to put a foot right as Australia's fly-half in these first two Tests – yesterday at least he had Beale, his late-night burger-bar mate, to share the load as first receiver – but here he beat North easily and released Israel Folau to charge up the wing where the young Welshman had been.
It led to a penalty in the Lions' 22 which Horwill chose to take as a scrum and from which Folau knocked on when he tried to run a sharp angle off O'Connor's shoulder.
The danger for the Lions was not over, however, as Jonny Sexton was able to kick clear to touch only 15 metres from his goal-line. From the Wallaby line-out, Genia took over. Tidying up Ben Mowen's tap with a dexterous juggle, he set about probing the Lions with the kind of multi-phase movement the tourists had rarely been able to create for themselves. A short pass from the ruck here, a guiding nudge of a forward's back there, and always a cock of the head left and right to check the developing position.
At any moment a wrong move or a fumbled piece of handling – and, blimey, there had been enough of those from both teams beforehand – would have given the Lions their much-coveted series victory.
Moving ever closer to the target of a try that was so necessary with the Lions ahead by six points, Genia dived into the orchestra pit just once to take the ball on himself, before recovering his place as the conductor to make the final pass to Ashley-Cooper via O'Connor, outflanking the exhausted Brian O'Driscoll and Jonathan Davies.
"The momentum is now with Australia, but we won't let that faze us, we have beaten them once," said O'Driscoll who, if Sam Warburton is not fit, may be tossing the coin with Genia in Sydney. "We are very disappointed because we were six points clear, but it's not over, we have now got a massive week to get ourselves ready for the Sydney match on Saturday."
History shows the Lions have never won only the First and Third Tests of a three-match series, but if the likes of Genia, Horwill and Halfpenny have taught us anything it is that the next result between these two teams could go either way.
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