Best of the Weekend: Lions win first series in 16 years

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All eyes were on Sydney this weekend as the British and Irish Lions ended a 16-year wait for a series win, powering to a 41-16 victory over Australia, and taking the deciding game of the series. Coach Warren Gatland’s team selection came under extreme scrutiny and criticism last week, but his charges rewarded him for his faith, and outplayed Australia comprehensively over the 80 minutes. Tries for Alex Corbisiero, Jonathan Sexton, George North and Jamie Roberts secured the victory for the Lions, whilst the unerring boot of Leigh Halfpenny added some much deserved gloss to the score line.

If there was one area of the side which had not come in for criticism during the previous week, it was the ability of the side to gain the upper hand at the scrum, and they certainly didn’t disappoint. Not only was the front row of Corbisiero, Richard Hibbard and Adam Jones responsible for winning ball on 100% of their own scrums, but they also won ball against the head on Australia’s first three scrums, and generally gave their opposite numbers hell throughout the game. The lineout, an area of concern with Hibbard’s form so far on the tour, was also potent, and although the Lions didn’t quite enjoy the same dominance as they did at the scrum, they still arguably outperformed Australia. The breakdown was another area the Lions dominated, and although some of this could be attributed to a dazed looking George Smith, who never looked to truly recover from a shuddering head collision with Hibbard early on, praise should be heaped upon a back row unit of Dan Lydiate, Sean O’Brien and Toby Faletau, all of whom were colossal in terms of their work rate.

The backs also had a game to remember, despite struggling for fluency slightly in a first half dominated by their pack, but certainly turned in a more effective performance in the second half, helping the Lions break away from Australia and secure victory. Sexton and Halfpenny both turned in their best performances of the tour, whilst the return of Roberts was a breath of fresh air for the Lions, who had struggled to break the gain line consistently in the last two tests.

Halfpenny deservedly picked up the ‘Man of the Series’ accolade, but undoubtedly fought off stiff competition from both North and Tom Youngs, both of whom also didn’t put a foot wrong on the tour, and all three have written themselves into Lions folklore with their performances over the last few weeks. Picking the ‘Man of the Match’ would have been an unenviable task with so many players performing at their very highest, not least so Halfpenny and Corbisiero, but it would have been very hard to ignore Alun Wyn Jones, as the captain led his side wonderfully, and certainly lived up to the pressure that was unexpectedly hoisted upon his shoulders.

Try of the Week goes to Jonathan Sexton, as it established a significant lead over the Australians, and effectively opened the flood gates, allowing the Lions to canter to a victory in the final quarter of the match. The offload from Halfpenny to Sexton in the build-up certainly deserved praise too.

Hero and Villain of the Week both go to Warren Gatland. Considering Gatland has just delivered the first Lions series win in 16 years, he is in reality not deserving of the title ‘Villain’ but there were really no other options. His team selection has been vindicated 100% by the result, but few would have been able to hold back a lump in their throat when the camera panned to the on-watching Brian O’Driscoll in the stands. Never afraid to be a controversial figure, Gatland made the tough calls few others would have had the courage to make, and as such is far more of a ‘Hero’ than a ‘Villain’. Odds are favourable that Gatland will have a role in the 2017 tour of New Zealand, but whether that’s as Lions supremo, or in a role with his home nation, only time will tell.

by Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport)

7 thoughts on “Best of the Weekend: Lions win first series in 16 years

  1. Dingo, who I hear has been put down, gets villain of the week for continuing to select a winger at 10.

    1. But that does seem to be a growing trend these days. France did it in the world cup, playing both Morgan Parra and Dimitri Yachvilli. Lions did it too, freeing up Sexton to concentrate on his running nous and using Halfpenny’s boot. Australia were simply overpowered, out-hearted, and outclassed. That’s why they lost. The axe had to fall somewhere and it fell on Deans. You know the old saying – it’s forwards that win you games. Lions forwards were bulldozers.

      1. It wouldn’t have mattered who played 10 this weekend, but could well have turned the first defeat into a victory.

        For the first test JOC was probably the 4th best 10 in the Australian 23. To persist with that for 2 more games when it isn’t working is being stubborn to a fault (at best)

  2. ha! Halfpennys offload deserved praise… Bowes pass made that try and let Halfpenny and Jon Davies beat two men each, before sexton walked in from 5 yards! He was certainly perfectly in the right spot at the right time and it was try of the week but give the full story wont you?!!

    and villain for Gatland villian for being a professional coach and picking a team that one by 25 points instead of being sentimental and giving the old boys a send off? crazy call.

  3. Whoah, that is crazy giving Gatland villain of the week. Villain for pillocks like Barnes and Wood who care more about getting their own mouth heard, villain for the hordes of idiots who will only support the Lions when it’s run to their own dictat, but surely not a villain to genuine rugby fans? There were many on this very blog who were questioning BODs place for that final test, based on form and the lack of defensive understanding with the available options.

    I doubt we’d have lost if BOD had played or been on the bench – but when a coach gets a win like that you have to hold your hands up, say “well done” and move on? As I said on another comment, he didn’t get everything right (what coach does?) but he got enough right to deserve to be able to say he did it right.

    1. “but there were really no other options” … a) Keith Wood b) Stuart Barnes. In the week before a final test they pulled the ultimate pro-Aussie card out of the deck -> they tried to split the nation and the squad along partisan lines, the hardest thing to stop happening on a Lions tour.

      They pulled the cheap “a foreigner doesn’t understand The Lions” crap when what they meant was a) he didn’t pick my legendary countryman and b) I need to say something daft to blot out the memory of me saying it’s a blessing Sam is injured, respectively.

      Simple. We know for a fact that this got through to the squad. We know it affected them. We know the Aussies loved it. Thankfully it didn’t mess it up in the end but they are clear, clear villains.

  4. Gatland villian *!**!!** some people still don’t get it .

    Barnes ,Wood and Mcbride need to retract their comments in print .Barnes I expected no better of but Wood and particularly Mcbride have tarnished themselves unecessarily .

    As for the “we aren’t supporting the Welsh Lions Crowd “particularly from the Emerald Isle well your man O’Driscoll looked really gutted at the series win on his CV but then he’s not just a man but a gentleman unlike the jump on the bandwagon bunch .

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