Canberra salutes its piece of history
Tom Hamilton in Canberra
June 18, 2013
The Brumbies' supporters enjoy the moment © PA Photos
Before the game, the Brumbies supporters still talked about 2001 and their last gasp loss to the Lions. But now they have a new page in their varied history. They can now talk about the time they inflicted the first defeat on the class of 2013.
For the first time on this 2013 tour, the travelling press encountered a city with rugby union at its core. En route to the stadium the radio previewed the evening's game, the only occasion this has happened since I have been in Australia. Upon checking into my hotel, it was presumed I was here for the match and I was handed a Lions-branded specially-made menu.
This is yet to happen elsewhere with the other sports dominating the news agendas. Canberra is a bizarre place, in my brief stay here it seemed a hastily-built place dominated by roundabouts - compared to Sydney and Melbourne, it does not have the buzz of a big city; renowned Australian physicist John Henry Carver said that when he arrived here he "did wonder slightly whether this was the nation's capital". But the Canberrans have been looking forward to this match for a fair old while.
The team are already in the knock-out stages of Super Rugby which is testament to the remarkable work Jake White has done since he arrived in the nation's capital in May 2011. Fortunately for the home support, which outnumbered the Lions', despite having two syllables to their name, they opted for a different chant to the droning 'Lions, Lions, Lions'.
In the build-up to the game, much of the attention on the radio, and indeed the rugby-focused press around the globe, centred on Shane Williams' inclusion on the right wing for the men in red. Before the game he said a good run out would include 20 touches, in the end he had far less than that.
And Christian Wade's first piece of Lions action was not running into broken ground, but instead a turnover. It was the story of the game for the Lions. The Canberra folk love their quick wingers and with Clyde Rathbone a household hero here and Henry Speight quickly developing a reputation as a lethal finisher.
But just as the brass band found their rhythm in the left hand corner of the stadium from where the players ran out - they seemed to be giving Aha's Take on Me a solid going over - Tevita Kuridrani breezed pass Wade and Rob Kearney's for the game's only try. Despite the plummeting temperatures, the Brumbies' support leapt to its collective feet, though suggestions this game was a sellout were mere myth - the attendance was 21,655, the capacity is just over 25,000.
For the visitors, gone was the organised set piece and constructive phase play. The ground groaned as Stuart Hogg persisted with lobbing the ball into the air while Ben Youngs' continuing option to take box kicks instead of attempting to work the ball through the middle and use the physical power to get over the gainline spoke volumes.
Rory Best reflects on a hard day at the office © PA Photos
The team has only had one collective training session. Williams said it took some time for them to gel early on and during the first-half, with the temperature now on zero degrees - I was wearing four layers which just about did the job - the men in red looked like they had suffered brain freeze. The wayward lineouts were greeted with gusto by the home crowd, this was a rare feeling for the Lions.
Come the second 40 and the set piece continued to flounder, an unnamed journalist behind me shouted "watch your heads" as Best prepared to take a lineout on the other side of the stadium from where I was seated.
But credit to the Brumbies and their fans. They were engrossed and it felt like they were taking every tackle and making every pass. While the Lions were turning to route one rugby, the Brumbies stuck to their structure.
The Lions' support found their voice sporadically during the second-half; the substitutions in the 57th minute drew applause and renewed hope. And with that raft of replacements came a turn in the match's tide and the decibels in the stands. Gone were the Brumbies' chants while the Lions faithful did their best to spur on their side.
Owen Farrell found his range and the Brumbies fans went into slumber, until the essential 74th minute penalty they won in their own 22. At this point the stadium erupted into the support for the home side.
And it was enough to get them over the line. At full-time I could not see the field for people dancing in front of me.
Win or lose the Super Rugby title, this will be enough to make sure the supporters of the Canberra side can look back on tonight with a great deal of pride. For the Lions, they have to regroup with the Wallabies up next. But as White said post-match, "Australia will now feel it is doable to beat the Lions, when before they thought it was uphill."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
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