David Flatman: Vive the Frenchman for standing firm so the men in rouge could rule the scrum
The expert view
Sunday 07 July 2013
Well, it was always going to come down to the scrum, wasn't it? It did too, and for a couple of reasons. One of the greatest days in Lions history was built on the foundation laid by a front five finally given a fair shot by a referee.
We knew the Lions had more outright power heading into this monster match but, as we have seen, evasive, cute tactics can, when unnoticed by the man with the whistle, negate what could be a match-winning asset.
Romain Poite, the French referee, did not allow Ben Alexander to shoot to the floor, as he did last week, and he did not allow him to slip his bind inside Alex Corbisiero's left arm. He forced the Wallaby to stand and fight, and he lost. That red scrum pummelled their opposition and accrued so many points in the process that even Australia – perhaps the world's most resilient team – could not find a way back.
And with a steely platform laid, the threequarters ran riot, with Leigh Halfpenny looking world- class in every facet of the full-back game. He fielded tactical kicks with ease – his positioning immaculate – he beat defenders with agility and poise when it counted and he kicked like, well, he always does. He is a stunningly complete player.
It all came down to one match, but the matches within that match were glorious to watch. Alun Wyn Jones was monumental, Sean O'Brien was ubiquitous and totally outplayed the legend George Smith, Jamie Roberts made the Aussie midfield look average – which they are not. It was beyond incredible. Many questioned whether that old Lions spark remained. There will be no more questions.
Gatland vindicated for his brave choices
Warren Gatland's head must rarely hit the pillow at night wondering what might have been. Had the Lions lost, he would have been shredded for an age. But, my goodness, did his boys deliver for him. All the talk in the build-up to a big game surrounding selection can work in two ways. It can cause chatter to spread through a squad and, in the blink of an eye, the big day can arrive and everyone can suddenly realise that too much time has been spent discussing something that cannot be affected; or it can serve to remove that blinding focus of the press and public and allow the lads to stay quiet and get on with the job. Whatever happened, the Welsh players were immense on the day, as were the Irish and the English. Gatland brave and vindicated, Brian O'Driscoll reflective and, ultimately grateful, Sam Warburton the same. Logic told us it was crazy, but character isn't about logic.
More than one handy Murray for us to savour
I'll be honest. Before yesterday I never for a moment thought that Conor Murray would be the man to lift the Lions when they needed it most. Mike Phillips was brought back in to dominate behind a pack on the front foot. In truth, he did not do that. Some of his box-kicking was again far too long and gave a potentially devastating Australian back three every chance – which, thankfully, they did not take – and he was ponderous around the breakdown.
So he went, and Murray came on to a field where, somehow, he had to inspire a Lions team that had given up a monster lead. All he did was his job. His service was sharp, his footwork was precise and his decision-making was selfless and simple. Take a bow, Mr Murray, and take a bow, Warren Gatland; you both produced when life made it most difficult for you, and that is some achievement.
Hosts hurt by Horwill howlers
Yes, the Lions won by a mile, but the points James Horwill chose to give up from penalties in the first half did much to shape the game. With his scrum dying, he surely needed to be less bold and take points every time.
It is one of the most basic rules of rugby: always take what is available. And what an irony lies there, because had Horwill missed this game, as many thought he should, the Australians might have been better off. By contrast, the Lions scarcely missed Sam Warburton.
For a lesson in leadership on the day, Horwill only had to look at his opposite number, Alun Wyn Jones. What a skipper.
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