Friday, 9 October 2015

Lions Finally Waltz Around Wallabies

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That old saying that bad luck comes in threes must have haunted Wallabies coach Robbie Deans post-match after a treble of unexpected setbacks upset the game plan early on after Will Ginea dropped the ball at the kick off. Closely followed by George Smith's concussion in the eighth minute and then the departure of Israel Foleau with a damaged hamstring. By which time the Lions had racked up a point a minute and started to boss the set pieces, especially the scrum, where Alex Corbisiero delivered the performance of the tour. Leaving the Wallabies and Deans stunned having played so well in the set piece in Brisbane and Melbourne.

In the heat of battle though Aussie Captain James Horwill earned his stripes as he slowly guided his side through the first half but adding only three points, as the Lions penalty count increased with one kick by Ginea offered up. Yet the scoreboard never moved as the Wallabies went for lineouts rather than kicks for the ensuing four penalties, up until the dying minutes of half. As the hooter sounded the twelve points looked well but lost, until James O’Connor squeezed over the line to score just to the right of the goalposts. Leaving the Wallabies entering their dressing room having reduced the gap to 10 – 19. 

A herculean effort given the dominance of Lions and the depth of the red defence. And for a moment the game seemed in the balance once again with  a repeat of the previous two tests on the cards. And so it seemed when Australia converted a penalty after the restart to move within six points and surviving the ten minute onslaught during the sin binning of prop Alexander - without conceding a point.

Momentarily the Lions looked listless. 

But it was just a fleeting moment, as soon after the restart Gatland flooded the bench when a poor throw by Richard Hibbard became the signal to haul him ashore. With another score converted by the hists the margin was back to three and all of sudden momentum was ebbing towards the Wallabies. The added change of Conor Murray inspired as Wallabies substitute, Mowen, impinging on the experienced Mike Phillips, with the debutant making a real impact in his first test appearance. For the fans in the stadium the weight of thirteen years was increased by a significant factor as the sound of Waltzing Matilda echoed loudly around Homebush. All despite the Wallabies misfiring yet with a back line able to deliver the needed scores at any moment.

But then within minute’s bursts by George North, Jonathan Davies showed that the visitor’s game plan was also to be expansive. 

Another break soon after by Man of the Match Leigh by Halfpenny delivered a pass five metres from the line for Jonny Sexton to duly touch down. Sending a roar around the ANZ Stadium and a sound that no doubt would have broken the spirit of a side lesser than the Wallabies. After teetering on the edge, and  a polemic week following the O’Driscoll absence and the sheer weight of history, Warren Gatland finally looked to have unlocked the potion that would redeem the Lions brand. Re-enact previous days in the archives and honour those legends of previous tours - so vociferous in their opinions during the preceding days..

And so it was. 

With a passion and promise that had not showed since the squad landed in Australia, more tries from George North, Jamie Roberts and then Manu Tuilagi, with the sublime intervention of Halfpenny almost on each occasion, pushed the scoreboard towards more history. The margin of victory. Something not equalled since 1966 and done in a manner where the post match press conferences by Horwill and Deans saw them almost speechless. Yet admiring of the achievements of the Lions, but acknowledging their shortcomings on the night after being so competitive in the preceding two games.

For the home unions the Lion has been clearly awakened and a new era of revival in the future tours no doubt forthcoming. A victory achieved by a New Zealander who may now relish the chance to take they same winning formula  to his home land in four years.

As it stands the Lions are better equipped to shatter the peace and quiet in the land of the long white cloud. On the other hand for former All Black, Deans, barring a miracle, it would seem he is homeward bound and that his services maybe dispensed with by the Australian Rugby Union in the very short term. A sad truth of sporting life, as the margin of victory in itself the cause of much. 

As Gatland knows, the misfortune of one day can be lost in the victory of anotehr day and both Kiwi coaches living two different taste of lady luck. For Deans it may just be another bit of ill fortune despite a Wallaby squad now moulded with some exciting new players on show and his waltizing days maybe over. 

Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong,
Under the shade of a Coolibah tree,
And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boil,
You'll come a Waltzing Matilda with me.

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