23-21. 16-15. A single point currently separates the Lions and Australia, but really this test series could, and possibly should, have been over already.
Interestingly, either team could have been celebrating come last Saturday night.
In scenario one, the Lions are victorious. After edging a nervy, lucky, but ultimately deserved first test by two points, Warren Gatland named an exciting team to take part in the second test, with guys like Ben Youngs and Tommy Bowe expected to bring a bit more zip and flair to proceedings. All of this so far is fact.
Now comes the fantasy. The Lions execute a quick, attacking game-plan that sees them move around the point of attack and utilise the prowess of North and Bowe on the wings. They win the second test fairly comfortably, with Ben Youngs sniping and Johnny Sexton completely outplaying his opposite man James O’Connor, who looks desperately unhappy with a number 10 on his back (that part is true).
That would have been it. Everyone bar the sponsors and the Australians would have been happy and we would be heading to Sydney to enjoy the final test safe in the knowledge that we had won the series.
What actually happened was the polar opposite. The Lions kicked repeatedly and rarely ran the ball. Johnny Sexton, the playmaker in the side, passed the ball only 10 times. The wingers combined made the same number of metres. It was not pretty stuff, and ultimately it cost them the match against an error-strewn, but more adventurous Australia side.
Scenario two is more a tale of bad luck than fantasy. In this case, Christian Leali’ifano does not get injured in the first minute of his debut. His presence allows the Australians to play the open game they want to in the first test, and he also nails at least two of the five kicks they missed in his absence. The Wallabies win the first test.
With their tails up they roll into Melbourne and duly put the Lions to the sword in test two – that part is pretty much fact.
As it is, neither side has dominated both game and a tied series going into the final test seems just about fair. It is bitterly disappointing, however, to speculate that had the Lions just been a bit more adventurous they would have had the series wrapped up by now.
Everyone will remember Leigh Halfpenny’s missed kick in the final minute, but more importantly the Lions never looked like scoring a try. Had they made any meaningful attempt to attack they might have done, and it would not all have been on the poor Welshman’s shoulders in the final minute.
Hopefully, Gatland and co will realise this in time for the Sydney test, otherwise I fear we are in for another four years waiting for a series win.
image: © iancarroll