Australia 29-23 British & Irish Lions
Wallabies clinch historic series victory
July 14, 2001
John Eales lifts the Tom Richards Trophy
© Getty Images
Although at no where near it's Olympic Games capacity, Stadium Australia is still an incredible sporting theatre and on Saturday night it played host to the big one, the deciding Test match of the 2001 Lions tour.
The pre-match entertainment included a cracking firework display and as expected the intensity was right there from the off.
In terms of quality the match was not a classic but the passion was there for all to see.
This has been the tightest of series and this one went right down to the wire. Australia deserved their victory. Superior passing and ball retention won the day and the Lions at times played like a side ready to go home.
The Wallbies hit their stride early on with scrumhalf George Gregan directing traffic in his trademark style. The gold forwards made it easy for their vice-captain, nicking two Lions lineout balls in the opening exchanges. At one stage, only a Matt Dawson intercept kept the home side out.
Australian fullback Matt Burke slotted three penalties in the first half and it should have been more, squandering two easy shots at goal and his clearance kicking was erratic to say the least.
One big difference between the sides in the opening half was the quality of passing. While the Australians transferred the ball slickly and at pace, the Lions often looked a touch laboured in possession, with players taking the ball standing still and being forced to run sideways in search of a gap.
The opening Lions try came on 16 minutes. The Lions were camped deep in the Australian 22, and Keith Wood and Tom Smith put Jason Robinson in at the corner from close range. A magnificent touchline conversion from Jonny Wilkinson took the score to 9-10 and the Lions had the lead.
The Wallabies hit back before the break when Andrew Walker and Joe Roff combined well and produced some sharp handling to set centre Daniel Herbert away for his first score. Matt Burke's conversion gave them a significant advantage but the Lions rallied before the break but were kept out by the almost ever present Wallaby defence. They had to settle for three points form Wilkinson's boot and a half-time deficit of 16-13.
After the break the Lions started strongly, marching it up the pitch with real intent. They put numerous phases together and Wilkinson was able to skip through a gap and score on 41 minutes.
Colin Charvis started the second half in place of countryman Scott Quinnell and nearly put his side right in it on 47 minutes. Having let the ball bounce into touch, he took a quick throw to himself in his own 22 and then put in what can only be described as a shocking kick which Gregan ran back. Only some desperate defence averted the try. Charvis put that episode behind him and got on with the graft that he does so well.
On 50 minutes Herbert scored his second try. The Wallabies steamed back into the action and found good continuity to take them into the Lions 22. A fine bust by Toutai Kefu sucked defenders in and as the ball was released left Herbert had a walk in for the five-pointer.
Herbert then turned villain a minute later, a clothesline tackle on Brian O'Driscoll meant the Queenslander went to the bin. It wasn't a malicious challenge but it's severity merited the punishment. Jonny Wilkinson kicked the goal and it was all square at 23 all.
It stayed that way until Herbert's return. Endeavouring to make their man advantage pay the Lions pressed and only some resolute defending kept them out. Wallaby openside George Smith and Gregan were immense.
The Wallabies were able to keep the Lions out and went ahead on 65 minutes with a Matt Burke penalty goal, conceded by Phil Vickery for obstruction at the lineout. Burke added a another nine minutes later and things began to loo desperate for the Lions.
With two minutes of play left the Lions won a penalty within goal kicking distance, but opted for the kick to the corner. Obviously the idea was for a lineout drive, but Justin Harrison stole the ball at the front of the lineout and the opportunity was lost. The Lions then threw everything into attack but couldn't find a way through. And as the 84 odd thousand counted down the final seconds to the whistle, it was again Australia's turn to celebrate.
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