This was not a game for the faint-hearted, neither in terms of the physical collisions on the pitch or the nerve-wracking uncertainty off it.
Amidst all this, however, there was a pulsating, captivating test match taking place. It was everything a Lions test should be: tense, tight and turbulent.
If the quality of some of the overall play was somewhat sloppy at times, there were four breathtaking tries that should serve as a reminder to any of the naysayers that running, entertaining rugby is still thriving on either side of the equator.
Will Genia started it all, dazzlingly weaving his way 60m up the pitch before dropping the ball onto his boot for the most delicate of grubbers through for Folau to collect and score on debut. Then came one of the tries that will go down in Lions’ lore, as George North collected an aimless kick before dancing his way through the defensive line and rounding the fullback without so much as a fingernail laid on him.
“Anything you can do,” thought Folau apparently, as he proceeded to slice through the Lions defence in the right hand channel with some beautifully balanced running on the way to his second try. Alex Cuthbert rounded things off with a direct line through the midfield before shrugging off would-be tacklers to dot down under the posts.
The scintillating tries aside, the main talking points from the game involved goal-kicking and, predictably, the referee. The Australians missed five kicks at goal, including two in the last ten minutes, which ultimately cost them when you consider that Leigh Halfpenny for the Lions missed just one. Once again the diminutive Welshman proved his worth.
Chris Pollock infuriated Northern Hemisphere fans with his ‘interpretation’ of the breakdown, i.e. there should be no contest there. How this is acceptable is somewhat baffling, in that a referee should not have to ‘interpret’ anything – the rules are the rules.
So when, in the first minute, Brian O’Driscoll was pinged for not supporting his own bodyweight when pretty much everyone could see that he was, referee Chris Pollock sent out a message – leave the breakdown alone and let’s have a fast game. This is partly understandable in that we all want to see a more open game – but does what is a great piece of defensive play from O’Driscoll deserve to be punished? No, it most certainly does not. There were very few genuine turnovers in the game because Pollock simply refused to allow a contest at the breakdown. That is not how it should be.
Rant over, all eyes now turn to Melbourne and a tantalising game in prospect. Must-win for the Australians, they are unlikely to let the Lions off the hook in a similar fashion two weeks in a row. Do the tourists have another gear? On Saturday we will find out.
image: © seljes