Forgotten match report: 1st Test, Australia vs Lions (21-23)

It’s sometimes strange to come across notes you’ve written in the past and forgotten about. They can seem both familiar and unfamiliar, as if you might have penned them but some of the phrasing suggests it equally possible you did not. Anyway, these are the notes, brushed up a little, from the first test between Australia and the Lions on 22 June 2013, just one of the glorious summer sporting days we’ve had this year.

It was an edgy start to the game, as one might expect for the first proper encounter of such an eagerly anticipated tour. Just think: the Lions wait four years, which is bad enough, but the Aussies (not to mention the All Blacks and Boks) wait twelve years for these games. There’s been chat that Lions tours are anachronistic and in danger of being dumped from the programme thanks to professionalism, but I see no evidence just yet.

The Lions were ponderous in their play, despite good possession. Australia started more effectively and scored the first try, albeit from the breakdown of a strongish Lions move. Genia tapped a penalty in his 22, ran up the pitch and kicked for Folau to chase and score. Not a bad start, considering the run of play, but Australia would have made an even better start had O’Connor not missed his kicks. As it was, they scored first, so they were pretty happy.

Hemispherical differences in law interpretation stifled the Lions (or are they rules? Cricket has laws, I know that.), especially when contesting the ball in the tackle area. The chaps from the windswept Britannic islands seem to prefer physical contest, the Aussies quick attacking ball. Who is right? Both. That’s the thing about touring: adapting to different playing cultures, even though professionalism has brought with it homogenisation.

Fortunately for the Lions, North responded with his own magic, catching an Australian kick in his own half and avoiding four tackles to score in the corner. He might have scored again had it not been for an elbow in touch. As it was, the Lions went 13-12 up at half time because of better kicking from the anvil-booted Halfpenny, despite a second Australian try.

One of the things that strikes about the Lions is their solidity. Their physical presence is formidable, not least with giants in positions usually taken by tiddlers: Phillips, at No.9, is over six feet, and North, on the wing, has girders for thighs. And the rest of the backs are fairly on the large side, too. Though the Lions were not as direct as their size might have suggested. Gatland likes his teams large, but not bovine.

In the second half Cuthbert crossed the line on forty-eight minutes. From good line-out possession he came off his wing and ran through a big hole that had emerged in the middle of the pitch. But great as it was to see a second try, there was something odd about it. I don’t know if it was the screen on which I was watching the game, but it looked slow. Yet only as slow as a cold knife through butter, and the Lions looked happier.

It didn’t last though; kicking took over. With the score at 20-15, the Lions were in a tricky stretch. Then it went to 20-18. On sixty-five minutes Halfpenny kicked another one, only for Beale to take the score to 23-21 on sixty-eight minutes. But there it stayed. With six minutes left on the clock, Beale missed a penalty. Oops!

As it happened, the Lions also missed an opportunity a few minutes later, on a scrum under the posts. The converse of an opportunity missed is an opportunity taken. It was an irony that the Lions gave a penalty on their scrum on the wet, slippery ground, only for Beale to slip taking the penalty. Opportunity missed. And harsh. That’s the way, I suppose.

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