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The Qantas Wallabies are still in the hunt to retain the coveted Tom Richards Cup, after defeating the British & Irish Lions 16-15 in front of a record-breaking sports crowd of 56,771 at Melbourne’s Etihad Stadium on Saturday night.
The Wallabies scored the only try of the match, with outside centre Adam Ashley-Cooper crossing over in the 75th minute to give his side the one-point lead they maintained for the rest of the match.
The Lions had a chance to win the contest and the series, with a shot at goal from halfway well after the fulltime siren, but Welsh fullback Leigh Halfpenny’s shot at goal fell short of the uprights and the Wallabies celebrated a famous victory.
Halfpenny scored all of his side’s points, kicking five penalty goals for 15 points with the boot. Meanwhile Wallabies inside centre Christian Leali’ifano notched three penalty goals for his side and converted Ashley-Cooper’s try, to tally 11 points. Wallabies scrumhalf Will Genia was named man of the match.
With so much on the line, both sides showed they would make the most of any points-scoring opportunity available to them in the opening 40 minutes, with four penalty goals to Lions fullback Leigh Halfpenny and three to Qantas Wallabies inside centre Christian Leali’ifano.
The Lions had their first chance to open the scoring just two and a half minutes in when Qantas Wallabies fullback Kurtley Beale was caught at the ruck by Lions captain Sam Warburton and penalised for not releasing. Leigh Halfpenny’s kick from just inside the Wallabies half was on target, but struck the cross bar and fell short.
The Wallabies were again penalised for not releasing four minutes later, just on their side of halfway. This time they opted to kick for touch and set up a rolling maul from the lineout. The Lions marched the lineout five metres before the Wallabies were penalised for collapsing.
They kicked to touch again, setting up a driving maul with 12 men in the lineout and again the Wallabies were penalised for collapsing. This time the Lions opted for a shot at goal.
Halfpenny’s shot at goal was good and the Lions led 3-0 after nine minutes.
The Wallabies finally enjoyed some possession 10 minutes into the half, with nine phases before Beale sent a cross-field kick to Israel Folau on the right wing. Folau won the ball easily in the air, but an offload to James O’Connor was knocked on and the Lions survived a scare in their 22.
The Wallabies won a short-arm penalty at the resulting scrum, when Lions’ scrumhalf Ben Youngs delayed the put in, setting up a five-metre attacking scrum for Australia. Mako Vunipola was then penalised for collapsing the scrum and Wallabies captain James Horwill wasted no time pointing to the uprights to give Christian Leali’ifano his first shot at goal, just right of the uprights.
Leali’ifano struck it well to tie the game at 3-3 and earn the first points of his Test career after making his debut last weekend.
The Lions’ scrum was again penalised in the 20th minute, this time just inside the Lions 10-metre line, setting up another shot at goal for Leali’ifano. The inside centre was sound with the boot yet again, taking his side to 6-3 with 24 minutes expired.
The Lions had their own scoring opportunity two minutes later when Wallabies prop Benn Robinson was penalised for collapsing the scrum five metres inside the Wallabies half. Halfpenny’s shot at goal was good and the game was tied at 6-6.
The Lions appeared to have fixed their issues at the scrum when, in the 30th minute, the Wallabies were penalised for screwing the scrum, setting up another shot at goal for Halfpenny. The kick from 44 metres out on the right-hand side of the field was good and the Lions led 9-6.
With very little possession for much of the half, the Wallabies began to string phases together late in the stanza, before an offside call against Lions’ flanker Dan Lydiate set up another shot at goal for Lealiifano. He struck it well from 38 metres out and the score was tied again at 9-9.
The trend continued with two minutes left in the half, as the Lions set up an attacking raid through a bomb from Jonathon Sexton, which was won by George North. The Lions attacked left to right, before the Wallabies were penalised for not releasing at the breakdown, giving Halfpenny an easy shot at goal. He kicked the goal to take his side to a 12-9 lead at half time.
The Wallabies looked dangerous early in the second half when Genia took a quick tap inside his own half, immediately shifting the ball wide. The Wallabies made almost 30 metres before the ball was lost in contact, to set up a scrum 10 metres inside the Lions’ half.
The Wallabies won the scrum against the feed, but were penalised for not releasing two phases later following pressure from Warburton.
What followed was a frenetic period of play as the game began to open up. Both sides looked dangerous with ball in hand, with the Wallabies especially looking to move the Lions around the field as the Australian outside backs probed for any weakness.
It was a tense 20 minutes before another scoring opportunity was presented to either side, with the Wallabies’ scrum penalised one metre inside their own half to set up another shot at goal for Halfpenny. The kick sailed over and the Lions extended their lead to 15-9 with 20 minutes remaining.
Lions captain Warburton was struck a cruel blow with 15 minutes remaining, injuring his knee in contact, forcing him to leave the field.
The Wallabies looked certain to score with 11 minutes remaining as they moved the ball from inside their own half, quickly transferring the ball to the Lions 22 through a strong carry from Folau.
The Lions were penalised on their own five-metre line and the Wallabies opted for a scrum.
They worked a set move from the left of the scrum, with O’Connor taking the ball to the line before offloading to Folau, but the winger knocked the ball on, allowing the Lions to clear the kick and diffuse the threat.
The Wallabies made headway again, working their way back to within five metres. The Wallabies forwards sucked in the Lions’ defence, creating space out wide for O’Connor, who gave the ball to Ashley-Cooper running a perfect line to break through and score the only try of the match.
Leali’ifano hit a difficult conversion, seven metres from the sideline to take the Wallabies to a 16-15 lead.
The Wallabies weren’t out of danger with three minutes left to play, as their clearing kick from the kick off went out on the full, giving the Lions an attacking lineout inside Australia’s 22.
The Wallabies won the lineout and earned a penalty in the process to take play into the Lions’ half with less than two minutes to play.
The Australians won their lineout and the forwards set to work closing out the game, with seven phases of pick and drive before they were penalised after full time for not releasing.
With no time left for a lineout, the Lions played on quickly and shifted the ball left to right and then right to left, before the Wallabies were penalised on halfway for not releasing, to set up a blockbuster finish.
Halfpenny’s shot, on halfway and 10 metres infield, was on target, but fell two metres short of the cross bar. Man of the match Genia caught the short kick and kicked it out to end the match and keep the series alive for the Wallabies.
DHL AUSTRALIA 2013 LIONS TOUR
FULL TIME SCORE
Qantas Wallabies 16 (Adam Ashley-Cooper try; Christian Leafli’ifano conversion; Leali’ifano 3 penalty goals) defeated British & Irish Lions 15 (Leigh Halfpenny 5 penalty goals) at Etihad Stadium. (Crowd: 56,771) (Half Time: Lions 12 Wallabies 9)