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Rugby Union

Wallabies level the series in thriller

Christian Leali'ifano kicks pressure conversion to give Australia 16-15 win over British and Irish Lions in Melbourne.

Last Modified: 29 Jun 2013 17:24
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The Lions held the Wallabies at bay until Adam Ashley-Cooper scored the only try of the match [AFP]

Leigh Halfpenny missed a last minute penalty from halfway to hand Australia a 16-15 victory over the British and Irish Lions in the second Test on Saturday, sending the series to a mouthwatering decider in Sydney next week.

A scrappy match lacking in quality burst into life in a frenzied final five minutes when Adam Ashley-Cooper crashed over for a try and Christian Leali'ifano slotted the conversion to ive the Wallabies a one-point lead in front of a record 56,771 crowd at the Docklands Stadium.

The Lions were chasing a first Test series win since 1997 after their 23-21 victory in the first Test last week - a win secured when Kurtley Beale also missed a last minute kick – and they came storming back, pushing close to the home line and looking to catch and drive from a lineout.

However, in echoes of Australia lock Justin Harrison's decisive intervention in the third Test of the 2001 series, flanker Liam Gill snared Lions ball and looked to have sealed the Wallabies win.

The tourists, and referee Craig Joubert, were not done yet and the South African official blew for yet another penalty that would give Halfpenny the chance to win the match and earn a place in Lions' history.

The Welsh fullback, who had been virtually flawless in his kicking on tour, approached the ball with his usual calm but his strike did not have the legs to carry and Australian celebrations broke out around the stadium.

Horwill delighted

Wallabies captain James Horwill, who could yet miss the decider because of a citing from the first Test, acknowledged the game had not been of the highest quality but was delighted to get the result.

"Sometimes it's not pretty, but we found a way to win and that's the most important part," he said.

"It's square now. It's sort of, you don't worry about the last two, it's now one game to win it. It's like a grand final."

Lions captain Sam Warburton, who put in his best performance of the tour so far, could also miss the Sydney Test after departing the pitch with a hamstring problem in the 68th minute.

"With Australia ... unless you are a couple of scores with a few minutes to go, you never settle down," the flanker said.

"That's something that we learned tonight, which was tough.

"But I thought Australia did well, to be fair, it was going to be whoever scored the first try who won the game, because both defences were so good, and Australia were the ones to find it."

A scrappy first half was dominated by defence, Joubert's whistle and the kicking of Halfpenny and Leali'ifano. As the Lions had predicted, Joubert's rulings at the breakdown punished Australia in the early exchanges and the visitors were awarded successive penalties for the Wallabies holding on to the ball in the tackle.

Halfpenny hit the crossbar with the first from 48 metres and the second was booted into touch for the Lions to launch two big driving mauls towards the home line, which the Wallabies could only collapse.

The second time Halfpenny took the points but the Lions were having less joy with Joubert's zero tolerance policy in the set scrum and Leali'ifano levelled the score in the 17th minute when Mako Vunipola was penalised for his binding.

Vunipola was again the guilty party at the next scrum - Joubert telling him to keep his head and shoulders up – and Leali'ifano put the Wallabies 6-3 up.

The next scrum came courtesy of a Vunipola knock on but the England prop rectified his position and it was the Wallabies who were penalised, Halfpenny converting from 43m after 27 minutes.

Again it was the scrum that led to the fifth penalty of the contest, which Halfpenny despatched, but Leali'ifano tied matters up again three minutes before the break after flanker Dan Lydiate was penalised for offside.

Halfpenny still had time to send the Lions into the break with a 12-9 lead when Lydiate's opposite number Ben Mowen transgressed at the breakdown and the Welshman slotted the ball through the posts from wide.

There was little more cohesion in the second half and no letting up in the effort expended on both sides either.

Physicality

Lions winger George North summed up the physicality of the tourists when being tackled by his opposite number Israel Folau on the hour mark, hoisting the former rugby league international into the air and driving him backwards.

By now the Lions were dominating the scrum and James Slipper was penalised at the next set piece, Halfpenny keeping his cool to punish the replacement prop and give his side a 15-9 lead after 63 minutes.

The Wallabies charged back and won a penalty close to the try line in the 72nd minute but captain James Horwill chose to take a scrum and, when the ball came out, Folau lost it forward in midfield.

They only needed to get it right once, though, and that moment came after a period of prolonged pressure when Genia spotted a thin defensive line to the left and flyhalf James O'Connor got the ball to Ashley-Cooper who dived over.

It only remained for Leali'ifano, perfect with four from four place kicks on what was effectively his debut after lasting less than a minute before being forced from the field by injury last week, to curl the conversion through the posts.

"Very proud," said Australia coach Deans. "It doesn't get any bigger than that.

"They knew the context. They knew that if they weren't successful in scoring a try and converting, the series would be done. But they had enough composure to get it done. So, very proud."

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Source:
Reuters
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