Australia 21-23 British & Irish Lions
Five things we learned...from the first Test
June 22, 2013
Will Lions winger George North or his Wallabies counterpart Israel Folau be celebrating come the end of the series? © Getty Images
The British & Irish Lions' drew first blood in their three-Test series against Australia with a narrow 23-21 victory in their opening clash in Brisbane on Saturday night.
What did this enthralling game tell us? And what else did we learn that could impact on the Lions' chances of claiming a series victory over the Wallabies?
North needs some repeat fees
Lions winger George North has already caught the eye on this tour and been tipped to claim a place among the all-time greats - and he took another massive step towards that status with one of the best ever tries scored by the elite tourists. His dazzling run not only left Wallabies Pat McCabe, James O'Connor, Berrick Barnes and Will Genia in his wake but also eclipsed the memorable scores by Jason Robinson and Brian O'Driscoll against Australia in 2001. North has cemented his place in Lions folklore with a score that will be on a constant loop in the weeks, months and years to come - even when he hangs up his boost his effort will ensure he is never short of invites come Lions tour time. The only down side is that we will also have to witness his finger-wagging at Australia scrum-half Will Genia on the way to the line. It may make for a great picture but was not fitting of the occasion and if he is to join the likes of JJ Williams and Gerald Davies among the Lions' greatest wingers he needs to go to finishing school.
Beale is back
Kurtley Beale's life appeared to be spiralling out of control earlier this year with alcohol fuelling a destructive few weeks that saw him assault Melbourne team-mates Gareth Delve and Cooper Vuna, get suspended by the Rebels and then break the terms of that suspension. But in life-changing and career-saving decision he admitted to a problem and entered re-hab with the full support of the Australian rugby community. That loyalty was repaid with a sparking display off the bench with his speed and athleticism lighting up the Suncorp Stadium. It may have ended on a disappointing note with a missed chance to win the game for the Wallabies - a slip to rival that of Devon Loch - but Beale can take heart from the fact he has emerged from a dark place and retains the faith of those who matter. "I told him not to worry about it," said captain James Horwill, "everyone in the team still loves him." His outstanding endeavour will ensure he claims a more prominent role when the sides meet again in Melbourne.
A star is born
Amid the wreckage of a disastrous first Test for the Wallabies, emerged a real star in the form of Israel Folau. The signs were good with the 24-year-old having scored eight tries in 14 appearances, and created many more, for the Waratahs this season since making a high-profile switch to union after an eye-catching spell in league, that included international honours, and a not-so-successful stint in Aussie Rules. But with just five months of elite rugby under his belt, few, except perhaps Wallabies coach Robbie Deans who handed him his debut, expected him to take just 12 minutes to announce himself as a star of the international game. His first score owed a great deal to scrum-half Will Genia but his second was crafted and executed superbly by the winger himself - and then there was the small matter of a try-saving tackle on Lions winger George North. He may switch to fullback for the second Test, such is his versatility and Australia's injury woes, but rest assured he will have a Wallabies jersey on for some time to come. It now falls on the Australian Rugby Union to make sure he remain in the green and gold for the foreseeable future with league clubs understandably keen on luring him back to the 13-man code.
Lions have used up their luck
Lady Luck was clearly on the Lions' side on a thrilling night in Brisbane. Kurtley Beale's slip as he attempted to land what would have been a match-winning penalty in the dying moments of the game was the most obvious moment of good fortune but by no means the only one. There was also the Television Match Official's decision not to penalise Lions centre Brian O'Driscoll for a cheeky check on Australia's James O'Connor that arguably prevented the Wallabies' playmaker from tackling or at least closing down Alex Cuthbert as he powered over for what proved to be a crucial second half try. Then there was the Lions' amazing ability to emerge from what was a brutal contest with no major injury concerns as Wallabies crumpled all around them. The Wallabies' lack of match action may well have contributed to their injury toll but Lions coach Warren Gatland can have little argument if fortune does not favour his side in the next two Tests.
Halfpenny's boot will decide the series
As dazzling the scores conjured by Israel Folau, George North and Alex Cuthbert, it was the equally-stunning misses from the tee that cost Australia and ultimately decided the contest. James O'Connor and Kurtley Beale let 14 points slip through their fingers including two early penalties that could have set an entirely different tone for the game. In contrast, the Lions could rely on Leigh Halfpenny's near fault-less form with the boot that provided another 13 points. The Wales fullback has now scored 78 points in just four appearances on tour and missed just two out of 29 attempts at the uprights. That level of sustained excellence is what success is built on and if the remaining Tests pan out as close as this one then his precision from the tee will continue to prove invaluable - especially if the Wallabies continue to flounder in front of the posts.
Australia's Israel Folau does just enough to deny the Lions' George North a score © 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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