Lions will never get that lucky again
June 24, 2013
Lions boss Warren Gatland has reason to smile after his side emerged victorious from their first Test showdown with the Wallabies © Getty Images
There was an almost audible intake of breath from members of the press corps when Warren Gatland, having admitted he was relieved, ventured the opinion that, 'we deserved to win that game' after the epic first Test victory in Brisbane.
His follow-up - 'look at the scoreboard' - when pressed was not very convincing but once he started to analyse the detail you sort of knew what he was trying to say even if the facts told a different story. Let us be very clear - the Lions will probably never get that lucky again.
It was not just the two Kurtley Beale penalties right at the death - on any other day he would almost certainly have kicked both of them - it was the whole kicking debacle. James O'Connor, hero in Hong Kong against the All Blacks in 2010 where he converted from the touchline in injury time for a famous 26-24 victory, missed two he would have expected to make but neither should have been kicking in the first place.
Christian Leali'ifano was the designated place-kicker. Instead, having been knocked out in the first minute (perhaps the shortest starting debut ever?) tackling Jonathan Davies he was left nursing a sore head on the touchline - one of those days when, for him and Australia, it was just not meant to be.
I'm getting better at deciphering 'Gatland speak' and I think he meant the Lions were potentially the better side. For the first hour I think most people would have agreed but then, worryingly, it all went wrong.
At 20-15 with 15 minutes gone in the second-half they had a golden opportunity to put clear water between the sides - the move went left and between half-way and the Wallabies' 22 and there was a three on two which Tom Croft butchered by going too far himself with Brian O'Driscoll and George North outside him - criminal.
Beale then kicked a couple of penalties, the second earned by his own brilliant counter-attack, and suddenly it was 23-21. With 10 minutes left the Lions again had the chance to wrap it up. North's smother tackle deep in the 22 gave the Lions a scrum almost in front of the posts but suddenly, with the replacement front-row on, they made a mess of it and Australia not only escaped but were able to pile on the pressure themselves for the final minutes.
Gatland's response? 'Disappointed in the game management today - I think we'll be a lot better next week.' Translation (with the help of a couple of informers from within) - he was absolutely furious with the way the Lions played in the final quarter and has made that very clear to those he deems responsible. The replacement front-row can expect a hard week. At times the Lions looked very good but every time they were about to take control they made a hash of things. There had been nearly 20 attacking phases at the start before Will Genia caught everybody - particularly Mike Phillips - napping by running a penalty from inside his own 22 to make the first try for Israel Folau.
Then, having worked their way back into a six point lead, slack defence from Jonny Sexton allowed Folau in again. That said Folau is very special - proof that a few seasons honing your skills in League and Rules is great preparation for an outside back in Union. This guy has everything.
Overall though, as Andy Farrell was quick to point out, the Lions made seven line breaks against three although I think Gatland's conclusion - 'we don't think there's that much attacking threat against us,' is dangerous with the likes of Genia, Beale and Folau around. I would expect the Lions to be better in the second Test although the news that Paul O'Connell is out with a broken arm is a big blow. He and Alun Wyn Jones were outstanding and we shall not know how O'Connell's absence affects the scrum until we are into the game.
Apart from that forced change I can see the coach using the same starting XV. There is an argument for bringing in Tommy Bowe immediately on the right wing but that would be very tough on Alex Cuthbert who took his try really well. Dan Lydiate starting (to give the side more 'grunt') with Tom Croft on the bench to come on as an impact player has also been mooted as has Jamie Roberts for Jonathan Davies but the combinations worked well and he must be very tempted to go for more of the same with a little tweaking on the bench.
The Lions have only once lost the first Test and won a series - here in 1989 - so history tells us that they would have had a mountain to climb if they had lost in Brisbane but unfortunately it is not nearly so predictable the other way round. The Lions won the first Test in 2001 comfortably but still lost the series so it is very definitely still game on.
Australia's Kurtley Beale slips as he attempts a last-gasp penalty against the Lions in Brisbane © Getty Images
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
John Taylor is a former Wales international who toured with the British & Irish Lions in 1968 and 1971. Since retiring he has worked in the media and has covered the last eight Lions tours as a commentator or journalist
Ahead of November's USA-All Blacks match, America's ESPN Magazine explains rugby to its readers who may not be familiar with the game
Tom Hamilton talks to World Cup-winning captain John Smit about life after rugby, his fears over the South African exodus and the World Cup
The reopening of the openside debate, a dominant wolf-pack and a sublime performance in defeat - Monday Maul looks at the weekend's talking points
The latest Week in Pictures takes in the Rugby Championship alongside the best photographs from around the domestic game