Lions paint Brisbane red
Tom Hamilton in Brisbane
June 22, 2013
The Lions are applauded from the Suncorp Stadium field after their epic victory over the Wallabies © Getty Images
For supporters of rugby the world over, this was an occasion worth the wait.
There was no repeat of the sea of red seen at the Gabba in 2001, but it was a unique bouncing atmosphere inside the Suncorp Stadium. Supporters were shoehorned in with the Australian Rugby Union taking the unprecedented step of releasing 500 standing tickets on the day of the Test. This was rugby's equivalent of Glastonbury, the hottest ticket in town with those wearing red and yellow doing all they could to pay witness to a game that has been 12 years in the making. The attendance of 52,499 was a record for the stadium.
Brisbane has been a hotbed of anticipation this week. The Lions fell to the Brumbies in the freezing, soulless Canberra but Queensland rose to the tourists. You could not move in the city centre for Lions supporters all decked out in their red shirts. The media numbers have swelled with numerous famous faces popping up here and there to witness and pass comment on the opening Test.
Come game day, wherever you visited in the city, you saw red or yellow shirts. The local news was awash with previews of the game with the 2001 and 1989 Wallabies finding themselves in demand.
Upon arrival at the Suncorp supporters were handed yellow hats, bearing a somewhat distasteful resemblance to the old-school hunting helmets. It was all an attempt to combat the plentiful and vocal Lions support. Caxton Street was a scene of wonderful carnage before the game with the bars unable to contain the huge support for both sides. Spilling out on to the road was inevitable but there was not even the smallest drop of bad blood between the two sets of fans.
And that continued in the stadium. Those in red sat alongside those in yellow. Beers were poured, drunk and shared. Some Lions supporters were even wearing the yellow hunting hats, an unexpected bonus for the ARU.
The crowd were treated to pre-match entertainment from Men at Work's front man Colin Hay who dusted off his guitar to sing their popular 'anthem' Land Down Under. And there were also the traditional didgeridoos alongside choirs from both Australia and Wales.
It all added to what was billed, and indeed lived up to, a unique occasion. The stadium announcer reading out the teams gave the supporters of both sides an early opportunity to out cheer each other with the loudest roars reserved for Brian O'Driscoll and Will Genia's names being read out.
But even the oscillating decibels did little to rival the explosion of noise when the two teams took to the field. But they were soon stunned into silence when Christian Lealiifano felt the full force of Jonathan Davies' hip. The Brumbies centre's debut lasted just 52 seconds. The chants of 'Lions, Lions, Lions' abated and transferred into warm applause for the centre as he was stretchered off.
But the crowd soon re-found its voice when Israel Folau went over for the game's opening try. Despite the ARU pumping in the opening couple of notes of Waltzing Matilda, the Wallabies crowd did not reciprocate by continuing the introduction. However, they did lap up Alex Cuthbert's misfortune when he knocked on the ball in the first-half and referee Chris Pollocks' constant penalising of the Lions at the breakdown.
But the physical nature of the game was starting to take its toll on the players and dented the Wallabies supporters' optimism. Berrick Barnes was knocked out by his own player with Pat McCabe later spread-eagled on the Suncorp turf.
© Getty Images
While the personnel on the field changed, the Lions fans' displeasure for Pollock's refereeing was a constant theme throughout the match. But some of the biggest cheers were reserved for George North's moment of sheer brilliance and Cuthbert's charge to the line. Penalties were cheered and unlike the warm-up matches, there were no boos when the teams opted to kick for the posts rather than gamble on the try by directing play into the corner. This was a Test match and the stadium knew it.
But two kicks from Kurtley Beale drew the loudest roars from those of a Lions persuasion. His miscued penalty shot in the 75th minute would have put the Wallabies in front by a point but there was still enough time for a fightback from Warren Gatland's men. It was his second shot, though, which had the stadium on its feet.
Beale had the chance to win the match for the Wallabies. Forty-five metres out, with the clock ticking into the red zone, the fullback lined up his shot at the posts. The Lions support were probably revisiting Pretoria in 2009 where Morne Steyn broke their hearts with a last-gasp penalty. The Wallabies fans were readying themselves to toast a victory achieved against the odds and with a flanker in the centres. But Beale slipped, the Lions watched the ball go dead and a British and Irish roar emanated from the stands.
To think this was just the first Test. We are lucky enough to have two more. The Lions will go into next Saturday's match in Melbourne 1-0 up, but you feel there is plenty more rugby for the supporters to enjoy in this series.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
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