The British and Irish Lions will have to wait another week for an opportunity to make history, after they suffered the closest of defeats, losing 16-15 to Australia in Melbourne. Five penalties from Leigh Halfpenny were not enough to defeat a fired up Australian side, who were victorious thanks to the boot of Christian Leali’ifano, and the solitary try of the game from Adam Ashley-Cooper.
Loosehead prop Mako Vunipola came under scrutiny early on in the scrum, with referee Craig Joubert pinging the Saracens player on a couple of occasions, whilst ignoring the vociferous calls that the Australian pack was driving early. The Lions scrum looked to adapt however, and grew in confidence throughout the game, with Adam Jones in particular impressing at tighthead, before his replacement Dan Cole exonerated some of his demons from the first test, scrummaging powerfully in his cameo.
The lineout didn’t function as well as it had in the first test, with the omission of Tom Croft clearly having an adverse effect on the unit, but the Englishman will be up against it to win back his place in the XV next week, with the back row trio of Dan Lydiate, Sam Warburton and Jamie Heaslip impressing. The blindside flanker Lydiate was particularly impressive in defence, playing with his characteristic work rate, and both Warburton and Heaslip benefitted greatly by getting over the ball at the breakdown, and earning the Lions invaluable turnovers.
The Lions’ backs however had a tougher time, and looked to lack fluency and cohesion throughout the game. Jonathan Davies struggled at inside centre, as did both Jonathan Sexton and Brian O’Driscoll, albeit to lesser extents. The back three looked in good shape though, as although the returning Tommy Bowe struggled to get much ball, he defended efficiently and chased well throughout, whilst George North showed off his impressive strength, and with ball in hand, performed a ‘fireman’s lift’ on the tackling Israel Folau, and drove the winger back a good few metres.
The hopefully fit-again duo of Alex Corbisiero and Jamie Roberts will be optimistic about their chances of forcing their way in to the test XV for the final game in Sydney, whilst the likes of Croft, Manu Tuilagi and Alex Cuthbert will have as good a chance as any of featuring from the start. Although the Lions looked disjointed for much of the game, it’s hard to pick out many, if any, bad performances, but the likes of Davies and Vunipola will be particularly wary of their places in the XV, especially with Corbisiero and Roberts/Tuilagi pushing hard to be involved.
Despite the spotlight being firmly on the Lions following the loss, Australia were good value for their win, particularly in the backs, where Leali’ifano, Ashley-Cooper and Folau all shone. The story was different at fly half however, with James O’Connor certainly having a game to forget, but with the series on the line in Sydney, don’t expect the famously stubborn Robbie Deans to change personnel at such a key position.
England Sevens fall at final hurdle
England’s Men’s 7s team came desperately close to glory in the RWC 7s in Moscow at the weekend, losing in the final to New Zealand in rainy Moscow. The Kiwis eventually ran out comfortable 33-0 winners, but credit must go to the England side who did very well to make it to the final, having only finished sixth in the world series this season. It was the first time an England 7s side had made it to a World Cup Final in 20 years.
England knocked-out Kenya in the semi-final with a 12-5 win, including two tries from lightening winger Dan Norton. In the quarters they dispatched Australia 21-17, although not without some nervous moments. Having raced into a 21-0 lead, they allowed the Aussies back into the game and almost came unstuck. It was ultimately the conversions of Christian Lewis-Pratt that made the difference.
Try of the Week was a real head scratcher until the realisation dawned that there was actually only one try this week, so by default, it goes to Adam Ashley-Cooper.
Hero of the Week, as unpopular as it may be, is Christian Leali’ifano. The Wallaby looked composed and unpressured in his second appearance in an Australian shirt, after his first lasted less than a minute. He made the game-winning conversion and also outshone his opposite number Davies considerably.
No Villain of the Week this time round. The early engages missed by Joubert make him a weak candidate, but his officiating did not decide the game, so this accolade would be unfair.
by Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport)