15. Berrick Barnes – 4
One of many casualties in the Wallaby backline after being poleaxed by the back of Israel Folau’s head on 38 minutes, Barnes had been largely anonymous up until his unfortunate exit. He paid the gravest price for an aimless punt to George North after getting utterly skinned by the whitewash-bound Welshman.
14. Israel Folau – 8.5
Folau’s simply freakish ability in attack was in plain view at Suncorp as he celebrated another international debut with a brilliant brace. If the first only required predatory support play to follow Will Genia’s instinct, the second showcased uniquely elegant, balanced running to beat three would-be tacklers. Also intervened to deny North a double and posed problems constantly – a true sporting phenomenon.
13. Adam Ashley-Cooper – 7
The hosts’ most capped player on display was wholeheartedly industrious, shackling Brian O’Driscoll and offering himself as a willing midfield runner whenever necessary. Personified the dogged Australian effort by defying a serious shoulder injury in the final stages, although he was eventually forced off.
12. Christian Leali’ifano – N/A
Very tough to see the Brumbies first-capper leave the field in a neck brace after just 50 seconds – crueller when you consider he would have been entrusted with Wallaby goal-kicking duties, as Robbie Deans mentioned afterwards.
11. Digby Ioane – 6
This was typically spiky from the Reds wing, who did exceptionally well to even make the series opener following knee surgery last month. Tested early on with a Jonny Sexton cross-kick, but dealt with that – and everything else the Lions threw at him – admirably, as a return of seven tackles without a miss suggests. Lively in attack without really hurting the Lions.
10. James O’Connor – 5
Not a night for indecisiveness, and O’Connor proved unequivocally that fly half is not his best position at international level. Misses from the tee proved to be costly, but failure to fizz around the gain-line as he can in Super 15 also stunted the Australian backs. Kurtley Beale showed much more verve at first receiver when he came on.
9. Will Genia – 8.5
Another influential showing from one of the most consistently excellent performers on the planet. Genia’s decision to tap and go on 11 minutes after some bruising Lions phase-play was ballsy, his ensuing break and grubber to Folau majestic. Frankly, he terrifies opposition defenders with ball in hand, both as a stinging sniper and a deft distributor. Must be shut down in Melbourne.
1. Benn Robinson – 6
A tough one to gauge given that Robinson excelled in the loose – trundling 18 metres from six carries and racking up nine tackles – but struggled in the scrum opposite Adam Jones as expected and conceded three penalties. Set-piece set-backs aside, he gave everything.
2. Stephen Moore – 7
Had plenty on his plate facing up to an inspired Tom Youngs, but Moore gave as good as he got in a great face-off between two fantastic hookers. He nailed all of his lineouts and worked himself to bone, making 12 tackles over an impressively energetic 80-minute shift.
3. Ben Alexander – 5.5
As eager in the loose as his propping pal Robinson, but less slightly effective. Out-manoeuvred by Alex Corbisiero too, which gave the Lions a foothold at crucial points.
4. James Horwill – 7
Only Australia’s captain will ever know if he meant to stamp on Alun-Wyn Jones’ face in the very first exchanges, but even if that was weighing on his conscience, Horwill led his men very sturdily, was a rock at the lineout and – importantly – managed referee Chris Pollock extremely well. Would have been a huge loss for the second Test and now has a big role in rallying those around him.
5. Kane Douglas – 6.5
A hugely nuggety, gnarled presence that bolstered the Wallabies around the fringes. Douglas won a crucial second-half turnover and stood up to the mighty pair of Paul O’Connell and Jones determinedly. His value perhaps decreases due to lack of lineout prowess, but he remains a bloke you would love in your trench.
6. Ben Mowen – 8
Assured and abrasive in equal measure over the course of an outstanding first Test, Mowen completely nullified the threat of Mike Phillips by suffocating the Lions scrum half around the fringes. Also freed Folau for his second and proved to be a genuine irritant to Warren Gatland’s men at the chaotic breakdown.
7. Michael Hooper – 6
Loses half a point for the midfield slip-up that let Alex Cuthbert sear through for the Lions’ second try, but that should not dent this sparky openside’s burgeoning reputation. Hooper kept Sam Warburton very busy as Pollock policed the ruck passively and got right under the skin of the Lions, even when deployed at inside centre because of injuries.
8. Wycliff Palu – 5
Three missed tackles and five metres from eight carries make for pretty uncomfortable reading, especially when the Wallabies needed their burliest carrier to thrive. Sadly, Palu appeared almost apathetic in the first 40 minutes. Woke up later on, which was all the more frustrating given how close the contest was.
With brutal collisions at every turn, the series-opener required Australia to delve deep into their reserves. All benchmen were used except hooker Saia Fainga’a and each were unyielding – Pat McCabe characteristically durable until succumbing to a nasty-looking neck injury, Liam Gill very sparky in the back row.
But this section can only be about one man. Whatever his off-field demons, Kurtley Beale seemed free from self-doubt in most intense atmosphere imaginable. His cameo – which became a central role – featured dancing counter-attacks, probing play at first-receiver, skilful off-loads and two nerveless goal-kicks. Sadly, the most pertinent moments of an epic night were the two unsuccessful attempts at the posts. Don’t be surprised if he makes amends in Melbourne, though.
By Charlie Morgan
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images