Australia 16-15 British & Irish Lions, Melbourne
Wallabies rip up the script
Tom Hamilton in Melbourne
June 29, 2013
James Horwill enjoys the moment © Getty Images
They said the wounded Wallaby was a dangerous beast. All week the talk in the Lions camp had been about history in the making, burying 16 years of hurt and emulating the crop of 1997. But the Wallabies had different ideas, their message concerned levelling things up. They managed it. Adam Ashley-Cooper's 76th minute try and Christian Leali'ifano's match-winning conversion equalled the series.
Like last week, the team on the wrong end of the scoreboard had a chance to snatch the game in the most brutal, ruthless of fashion with a penalty awarded in the last play of the game. And like last Saturday, the kick failed to find the three metre gap between the two white uprights. This time it was the supporters wearing yellow that rose to their feet and saluted their heroes. Yellow hats went flying rather than lion masks.
It was a game for the rugby purists. Knock-ons and handling errors littered the match with gainline breaks limited. What the Test lacked for quality, it made up for in atmosphere. The Lions supporters were enjoying Melbourne's various bars throughout the day, with the roof closed in the Etihad, it was surprising there was not more of an odour of alcohol within the confines of the stands. As you walked along Southbank, you could not move for red shirts. Wallabies supporters were greeted with jeers while the numerous fans dressed in yellow, furry lions costumes drew chants of 'Lions, Lions, Lions.'
It is doubtful whether all of the 56,771 in the stadium will remember this game, not due to its lack of clear cut action or incisive line breaks but for the alcohol levels. But despite the various levels of intoxication, it did not want for volume from the stands.
On decibels alone, this was a home match for the Lions. James Horwill's name was roundly booed by those wearing red while Brian O'Driscoll's name received a rapturous reception. And the pre-match entertainment was also geared towards the Lions support. There were versions of U2's Beautiful Day, Proclaimers' 500 Miles, Duffy's Mercy and finally the Verve's Bittersweet Symphony; ticking the four boxes that make up the Lions.
But once the game started, any sense of partisan support or individuality between the nations was put in its respective box. You felt the Lions support knew what the team were on the cusp of and they had a role in making it happen. They were far more vocal than the Wallabies' support with Bread of Heaven rearing its head on a few occasions while Swing Low also got an airing. It was sung by all in red rather than small cartels.
At times it felt the crowd were so engrossed in the game that they were holding their collective breath. Occasionally there was an outpouring of the standard Lions chant or a reaction to some play on the turf, but the tension at times was overwhelming.
With the lack of clean breaks and tries on the field, the crowd had to find other ways to release their vocal tension. Craig Joubert allowed the Lions more joy around the breakdown but his calls still provoked outcry from both sets of supporters in the stands. The stadium also applauded ferociously whenever a high ball was caught, on most occasions it was a man wearing a green and gold shirt who was left with the pill rather than those in red.
For the Lions support, the loudest cheer of the night was for George North when he carried Israel Folau on his shoulder - for them it was the moment of the match. But there were few occasions for the 'sea of red' to enjoy.
Mako Vunipola reacts in disbelief © Getty Images
They did their best to raise the closed roof, but when Ashley-Cooper burrowed over the line, it triggered pandemonium in the stands. The Wallabies support rose to their feet, the Lions faithful slumped into their seats.
Leigh Halfpenny had the chance to win the match, but there was no repeat of Morne Steyn's heroics in 2009 or Jeremy Guscott's famous drop-goal in 1997.
After the game Australia saluted their support while the Lions soaked in what could have been. Backs were patted and words were said. Now is when Warren Gatland really earns his money. He has to pick his team up for the game in Sydney. "I don't think it will be tough," Gatland said. "When we get back on the training field they will lift themselves for next week."
But he may be without his captain Sam Warburton. He embodied everything that the Lions stand for; he put his body on the line and while the hamstring injury he sustained may keep him out of the third Test, his role, along with Paul O'Connell and Brian O'Driscoll, is now essential if they are to get the win in Sydney.
Warburton told the press after the game: "Tomorrow morning we wake up and we've got a chance to win the series. It's not doom and gloom at all." A brave face or stern optimism is something only he knows.
Like 1989 and 2001, the series goes to the third Test. James Horwill said post-match "there will be one or two points in it". It would take a bold call to bet against him.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.