Wallabies show true class to level series
by Scrum's Chris Marais
July 7, 2001
Joe Roff crashes over against the Lions
© Getty Images
The balance of power in the 2001 Lions tour swang dramatically in Australia's favour here on Saturday night as they avenged their First Test defeat in Brisbane, beating the tourists 35-14, and it came almost dead on the halfway point of the series.
Not one minute into the second half Wallaby wing and man-of-the-match Joe Roff intercepted a Jonny Wilkinson pass on the Lions 22 and held off Brian O'Driscoll to score in the left hand corner. With that score the home side were back in the series, and it must be said by the end looked the better side of the two.
After the Lions support dominated the First Test in Brisbane, the Australian Rugby Union and Colonial Stadium turned on the razzle-dazzle for this Second Test and there was easily as much gold in the stands as red. Kick off was delayed 10 minutes as it seemingly always is in this part of the world, and after the fireworks and musical showcase Dan Herbert led the Wallabies out on the occasion of his 50 cap and it was game on.
It took precisely four minutes for the Lions to carve open the Wallaby defence, with Lions fullback Matt Perry going straight through a big hole in midfield off first phase ball. He made 30 metres before setting the ruck when he had Jason Robinson outside him and Neil Back on his inside shoulder.
Lions play in the first half was characterised by some massive tackling and big yardage busts from the forwards. Quinnell and Wood won huge tracts of Wallaby territory, turning the Australians. The gains were however offset by some careless regard for possession, with forwards standing out wide waiting for the ball rather than sticking to their rucking assignments. Similarly support wasn't quite there on a number of occasions as the attacking tourists strove to find the killer pass. Wallaby openside George Smith won a lot of ball at the breakdown for his side.
Flyhalf Jonny Wilkinson banged over two penalty goals from the same spot on seven and eleven minutes, and Matt Burke replied with a brace on 19 and 37 minutes.
The Lions try came on 23 minutes. After an exchange of kicks centre Brian O'Driscoll decided to have a go and put in the chip and chase. He gathered his own kick brilliantly, seemingly metres above the Melbourne turf. He fell heavily and needed treatment, and whilst being attended to Wilkinson put in the crosskick for Hill to chase, and his follow up won the Lions a lineout five metres out.
A clean take from Grewcock under pressure set up the drive and Neil Back steered it over to score the try. We've seen that before. Back had a quiet first half, looking a bit rusty, and his normally faultless hands let him down on a couple of occasions, no matter as his backrow colleagues Hill and Quinnell were both having stonking games.
Unfortunately Hill didn't return for the second half, and it was a different story all round. The Lions weren't in it as they struggled to put any phases together, and more than once opted to kick ball away. Australia by comparison moved the ball round at will, with George Gregan enjoying an armchair ride at scrumhalf. That is when he is at his best and the Wallaby vice-captain controlled play with precision and assurance in equal measure. Left wing Joe Roff scored again on 47 minutes, after skipper John Eales had nicked ruck ball and got in behind the Lions defence. The ball was spun wide quickly and Roff burned opposite number Dafydd James on the outside to score.
The Lions did their best to claw their way back into it after that score and in a rare attacking foray they threatened, but Perry couldn't find Jason Robinson with his pass as things began to open up.
A third Wallaby try came one minute past the hour mark, and came from concerted pressure. Gregan selected all the right options in the build up down the right and blindside Owen Finegan made a halfbreak. He neatly got the ball away in the tackle with a floated pass to Matt Burke. Tight on the touchline the fullback still had a fair bit to do and as he approached the line it seemed he might not make it. His mates arrived just in time to drive him over for the try.
Burke also kicked four penalties in the second half to keep the scoreboard ticking over nicely for the home side. The Lions understandably got a bit frustrated and some late hits went in on Stephen Larkham. What was more worrying however was the departure of Jonny Wilkinson with ten minutes to go, stretchered off in considerable discomfort. Neil Jenkins replaced the Newcastle pivot, but he had little opportunity to get into the game.
Wilkinson has to be fit for next week's Third Test if the Lions are to stand any chance of claiming the series and the injury to Richard Hill must also be of concern, he was very much missed in the second half. So it goes to a decider and the Lions are going to have pull something special out of the bag against an Australian side very much in the ascendancy.
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