They might be Lions, but ...
July 1, 2013
James O'Connor did enough to keep the No.10 jumper © Getty Images
Robbie Deans is breathing easier… for a week at least: James O'Connor continues to divide opinion as to whether he has any idea how to be a Test No 10, but he got it together at the right moment so he can keep up that oh so cocky swagger; Ben Mowen has in just two Test matches become Australia's most authoritative forward; and the Wallabies' biggest hero was someone off the bench, with Liam Gill saving them in the final minutes with a desperate snatch and grab at the back of the lineout to snare possession from a dangerous British & Irish Lions throw-in.
What a crazy, mixed-up international, which was almost ruined by the ever-fastidious referee Craig Joubert being so particular in some areas, such as the scrum, but so relaxed in others, such as the offside law, that both teams wandered freely in no man's land all night. With such limited space and so much action occurring behind the gain line, no wonder there was only one try scored. At least a vibrant final few minutes that thankfully enlivened a generally dour Test saw Lions supporters get a dose of the anguish Wallabies followers had to suffer a week before in Brisbane, and lead to a perfect finale to a mesmerising Test series.
No longer do the Lions look a mighty unit, after having their chance to win the Tom Richards Cup early. They blew the opportunity, primarily because they lacked backline drive and consistency up front - even suffering the indignity of international rugby's most maligned pack pushing them around at times. But they were able to stay in the Test right until the end because the Wallabies did all they could to lose it. Australia's handling at times was abominable, and their backline direction was haywire - with O'Connor again struggling to come to terms with the playmaking responsibilities, which included receiving the most deadly of looks from Will Genia when he inexplicably kicked the ball out on the full in the final minutes; it was a brain snap that could easily have ended the series for the Wallabies. Nonetheless the Wallabies only had to get it together on one occasion to expose a pretty mundane Lions outfit.
For once O'Connor stopped sitting so deep in attack. He ran straight and direct at the opposition, lured Jonathan Davies towards him, and then timed the pass perfectly to put Adam Ashley-Cooper through a gargantuan gap for the only try of the game. Leigh Halfpenny had a tough chance to win the match and the series in the final seconds with a long penalty kick, but it would have been a travesty if it had gone over because, despite their constant bungling, the Wallabies were the better team.
And so the momentum has changed dramatically. After the Lions looked for the past fortnight clear favourites to win the series, now the Wallabies are the more authoritative.
The Wallabies were the better side, Greg Growden says (video available only in Australia)
While for some odd reason the Lions wander off to Noosa for R&R in the Queensland sun, the Wallabies have headed straight to Sydney where they will gain an enormous psychological boost from being in the venue city that gets right behind major sporting moments - as shown during the 2000 Olympic Games and Rugby World Cup 2003. Sydney will this week be a blur of green and gold, and that will make the Wallabies feel, for a change, really special. But this doesn't mean the Wallabies should get lackadaisical, or think they already have the right line-up to finish off the Lions. The Lions have one factor working on their side in that Frenchman Romain Poite is refereeing the final Test, and in the past he hasn't always been receptive to Wallabies antics - especially at scrum time.
So the Wallabies must be prepared. And that should include tinkering with their back row. Wycliff Palu again struggled to make an impact at No.8, with the Lions clearly targeting him. The obvious answer is to move Mowen to the back of the scrum, which gives the Wallabies the opportunity to bring in another lineout jumper in Dave Dennis or Hugh McMeniman at blindside flanker. Also, George Smith must not be a spectator for a second Test running. Smith should either be in the starting team, or on the bench, because his big-game experience and excellent breakdown pilfering skills will be invaluable. He was after all in the Wallabies back row in a very similar situation 12 years ago. One-all. Third Test. 2001. Australia- Lions. Sydney. You know the rest.
Wallabies fans enjoyed the moment in Melbourne © Getty Images
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