Five things we learned from...the second Test
June 29, 2013
The Lions' George North takes Australia's Israel Folau for a ride around the Etihad Stadium © Getty Images
Australia levelled their series with the British & Irish Lions with a gutsy 16-15 victory in their second Test clash in Melbourne on Saturday night.
What did the Wallabies' victory and the Lions' performance tell us? And what else did we learn that could impact on the series-decider in Sydney next weekend?
Man and ball and then some
This series has produced several fascinating sub-plots but none as enthralling as the dual between rival wingers George North and Israel Folau. The battle between these modern giants of the game - the Thor and Loki of the rugby union world - has been worth the price of admission alone with their latest encounter in Melbourne serving up another feast of brutality and brilliance. Folau is fast emerging as one the game's great talents and as a key attacking weapon for the Wallabies saw twice as much ball as North with a superb claim of a high ball just one highlight. But North produced THE moment of the game in the second half when he collected the ball and his wing rival in one swift movement before charging downfield with both. Simply sensational play - that almost ended in injury - from a player seemingly determined to etch his name in history and in the memory of all those lucky enough to witness his endeavour.
Cometh the hour
Lions centre Brian O'Driscoll played a key role in the build-up to this Test with his experience and knowledge harnessed in the hope of inspiring an historic Test and series triumph. It was not enough to propel the Lions to victory and the Irishman and his players will have to go back to the emotional well again this week with O'Driscoll's influence set to become even more important following the injury suffered by captain Sam Warburton. O'Driscoll assumed the captaincy following Warburton's departure and with veteran Paul O'Connell already sidelined, he looks set to retain the honour in Sydney. O'Driscoll announced himself on the international stage by taking a starring role for the Lions on their last visit to Australia in 2001 so, with the 34-year-old set to embark one final lap of honour next season, what better way to sign off than by steering them to glory?
Horwill a happy man - for now
The smile on James Horwill's face at the final whistle said so much. You sense the Wallabies' captain knows he was very lucky to be able to lace up his boots for this game having been cleared of stamping on Lions lock Alun Wyn Jones during the first Test and having been handed a surprising lifeline he attacked the challenge with relish. His industry and delight also suggests he is aware this was most likely his last chance to influence the destiny of the Tom Richards Cup with a fresh investigation into his 'battle for balance' in Brisbane awaiting on Monday when a belated suspension is set to be handed down that will rule him out of action for the series decider in Sydney next weekend - and beyond.
The battle of the boot
British & Irish Lions fullback Leigh Halfpenny has set the standard when it comes to place-kicking in recent weeks but it appears he has a more than able rival in Australia centre Christian Leali'ifano. This clash was always going to be a tense affair given the stakes and unsurprisingly the boot proved pivotal. Halfpenny's impeccable kicking form provided five penalties and carried the Lions to the brink of victory with the cross bar denying him in the first half and 53m proving just too far for his rocket-propelled right boot in the last act of the game. But he was licked by Leali'ifano who showed no nerves despite the magnitude of the fixture and a limited international career that until today spanned all of 37 seconds. The 25-year-old was as chilled as a Test centurion who has just had two weeks in Bora Bora with his conversion of Adam Ashley-Cooper's late try both setting the seal on a famous triumph and sounding a warning to Halfpenny that he is not the only kicking king.
Pressure or Poite?
The Lions struggled to please Kiwi referee Chris Pollock in the first Test but appeared to get along much better with South African whistle-blower Craig Joubert in the intense surroundings of the Etihad Stadium. His experience and clear communication ensured no confusion although both sides still felt his wrath. The appointment of Romain Poite would appear to be a plus for the Lions with the Frenchman, like Joubert, a regular fixture in Europe who took charge of two of Wales' games in this year's Six Nations. But the man in the middle will only be one concern for the Lions with the pressure of the occasion set to provide a more formidable challenge. With their series hopes, and arguably their coach's job, on the line, the Wallabies' efforts were plagued with errors. The stakes will be higher next weekend and any side hoping to lift the Tom Richard Cup in Sydney will need to handle not only the opposition but also the expectation.
James Horwill led the Wallabies in Melbourne but is likely to be on the sidelines in Sydney © Getty Images
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Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.
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