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The HSBC British & Irish Lions have gone one-up in the DHL Australia 2013 Lions Tour test series after a thrilling 23-21 victory over the Qantas Wallabies in a drama charged first Test played at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane tonight in front of a new ground record crowd of 52,499.
The match was lit up by two of the best solo tries in recent memory, to George North for the Lions and Israel Folau for the Wallabies (twice), who scored breath-taking individual tries as the Lions held on for the nail-biting victory, after the Wallabies were severely disrupted by four injuries to key backline players.
Before the kick-off the campaign to combat the ‘sea of red’ provided by the Lions fans was a success with the Wallabies jerseys and gold Safari Hats flooding the atmosphere-charged stadium.
The Wallabies had three Test debutants in Brisbane-born Brumbies captain Ben Mowen, wing Folau and Brumbies centre Christian Leali’ifano.
Leali’ifano’s night sadly lasted just a minute as an accidental collision with Lions centre Jonathan Davies saw him replaced by Brumbies team mate Pat McCabe after just one minute. Leali’ifano was later cleared of any serious injury.
Flyhalf James O’Connor had a chance to put the Wallabies in the lead on five minutes but his penalty attempt from wide out on the 40 metre line was just short. A minute later a second attempt from a similar position shaved the left upright.
But the Wallabies were on the board on 13 minutes. After the Wallabies held out a sustained Lions attack with courageous defence, the Wallabies won a penalty. Brilliant Australian scrumhalf Will Genia took a quick tap and set off downfield.
After a surging break he sent a grubber kick skidding towards the right touchline where the debutant Folau picked it up mid-stride and ran around under the posts to score a sensational opening try. O’Connor converted from near the posts and the Wallabies were out to a 7-0 lead.
The Wallabies were simply playing at a pace that the Lions could not contain or match and looked the far more dangerous of the teams.
But within the blink of an eye the Lions were in the lead. First Welsh fullback Leigh Halfpenny landed a penalty from a lineout infringement to pull the Lions back to 7-3.
Then in the 25th minute giant Welsh winger George North scored one of the great individual tries in Lions history. He fielded a clearing kick 60-metres out and then broke the tackle of McCabe, beat O’Connor and fullback Berrick Barnes before outpacing Genia to score in the left corner.
Halfpenny converted and a second penalty made it 13-7 but then the Wallabies hit back with a second try from Folau just as good as North’s.
The giant NSW winger took the ball 30 metres out, stepped inside Lions flyhalf Jonny Sexton, palmed off prop Alex Corbisiero and ran around Halfpenny to score wide out. O’Connor missed the conversion and the Lions held on to a 13-12 lead after 34 minutes.
The Lions had a chance to go further ahead on the stroke of half time but Halfpenny unusually missed a penalty attempt from wide on the right, leaving the Lions ahead by the slenderest of margins after a thrilling half of Test match Rugby.
The second half started at just as breakneck speed with the Wallabies determined to run the bigger Lions pack off their feet.
But the Wallabies task got more difficult when McCabe went off injured, and with Kurtley Beale already on for Berrick Barnes it meant NSW flanker Michael Hooper was forced to fill in at centre.
Minutes later the Lions made their advantage count with Wales winger Alex Cuthbert slicing inside of Hooper and evading O’Connor, Genia and Beale to score under the posts. Halfpenny converted and the Lions led 20-12 after 46 minutes.
O’Connor brought it back to 20-15 with a penalty of 50 minutes but with the injury toll in the Wallabies backline could the Men of Gold come back to snatch it?
The Wallabies fought on valiantly and Beale landed a pressure penalty on 61 minutes from 40 metres out to bring the score back to Lions 20 Wallabies 18.
Halfpenny increased the lead to 23-18 with a penalty after 65 minutes but then Beale split the Lions defence with his own moment of individual brilliance. The Lions were penalised for not releasing close to the line and Beale kicked another pressure penalty to make it 23-21 with 12 minutes remaining.
Beale had a chance to put the Wallabies in front on 74 minutes but his penalty attempt went just wide.
The Wallabies suffered another injury blow with just four minutes left with centre Adam Ashley-Cooper being replaced by reserve scrumhalf Nick Phipps, which meant the Wallabies now had a flanker (Hooper) in the centre, a winger (Digby Ioane) as the other centre and a scrumhalf (Phipps) on the wing.
Beale had a chance to win the game with a penalty attempt in the final minute from 46 metres out after the Wallabies pack had won a penalty at a Lions scrum-feed but the young fullback slipped while taking the kick and the ball skidded wide.
The teams now move on to Melbourne next week for what is sure to be a thrilling second Test of the three –Test series at Etihad Stadium next Saturday night.
DHL Australia 2013 Lions Tour
FULL TIME SCORE
HSBC British & Irish Lions 23 (George North, Alex Cuthbert tries; Leigh Halfpenny 2 conversions, 3 penalties) defeated Qantas Wallabies 21 (Israel Folau 2 tries; James O’Connor conversion; penalty; Kurtley Beale 2 penalties) at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane. (Crowd: 52,499 – Ground Record, Half Time: Lions 13 Wallabies 12) (Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand))