Australia v British & Irish Lions, Sydney, July 6
Wallabies bank on Lions-taming Lealiifano
July 6, 2013
Christian Lealiifano remains calm even under intense pressure © Getty Images
Christian Lealiifano has played just one game and one minute in Test rugby, but match-winning goal kicks are nothing new for Australia's "Mr Composed". Lealiifano can't remember missing one, and that's why the Wallabies can feel confident that the high-pressure responsibilities, and a potential Tom Richards Cup series win over the British & Irish Lions, rest on his right boot at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night.
The first two Tests were decided by missed penalty shots at the death by Kurtley Beale and Leigh Halfpenny, but the Wallabies' ultimately achieved their series-levelling win in Melbourne when Lealiifano slotted his angled conversion in the 77th minute at Etihad Stadium. His Brumbies skipper, Ben Mowen, counted it as the fifth time the cool-headed inside centre has had the chance to win a match with his boot in the past two seasons.
"He's kicked them all and that's an amazing stat," Mowen said. "He's funny because he says whenever I hand him the ball to kick the winning goal I don't look him in the eye because I just don't want to put any more pressure on him. But you hand it to him knowing that there is going to be a good result at the end of it."
Lealiifano kicked his most memorable match-winning points for the Brumbies after full-time at Canberra Stadium against the Cheetahs in 2012 and the Bulls, from halfway, in April. "Lucky enough I haven't missed too many because I would have been bagged out and get all the media like the other guys are getting when they miss," Lealiifano joked.
Lealiifano, 25, says the pressure helps him to focus, but ultimately he treats every kick as if he were playing "backyard footy" - including last Saturday's match-winner in front of 56,000 fans.
Scott Gibbs believes Christian Lealiifano and the Wallabies have the advantage in Sydney%]
"I had a text from an old schoolboy coach and it just said 'memories'," Lealiifano said. "He said it reminded him of when I was 17 and kicking the winning goal against the New Zealand Schoolboys. I haven't missed one, which is very lucky for myself."
Lealiifano's important responsibilities may grow if the speculation in Australian rugby circles that Robbie Deans and the Wallabies will part company regardless of the result at ANZ Stadium on Saturday proves correct. The attitude and lack of discipline displayed by James O'Connor and Kurtley Beale has disappointed both Wallabies leaders and the prime coaching contenders, and a change of tenure to Jake White would see Lealiifano take a more senior role - as he has at the Brumbies.
Christian Lealiifano had a Test debut to remember and forget © Getty Images