Wallabies v Lions: Izzy Izzy Izzy, Oi Oi Oi

Israel Folau’s stunning effort in his first international appearance was not quite enough to give the Wallabies victory in the first test, but oh how close they came. Two tries of his own and a gut-busting lunge to prevent what looked like a certain Lions’ score were the highlights of a remarkable performance by the debutant.

 

After eighty pulsating minutes during which the Wallabies had seen three players stretchered off they were still in the game. A British and Lions feed into the scrum, an area in which they had dominated until late in the game, should have seen them able to ice the clock and protect their two point lead. A huge effort by the Australian pack saw the Lions scrum backpedal and the referee’s arm was raised – the Wallabies have a chance to win the game. Forty-five metres from goal and only just outside the line of the left hand post, Kurtley Beale launched himself towards the kicking tee as full time ticked over. The calamitous slip, his standing leg giving way on the loose surface as the kicking leg swung towards the ball, will go into Wallabies’ folklore. Not since David Beckham landed on his backside in a penalty shoot-out in the 2004 European Championship quarter-final has such a mishap decided a major sporting occasion. The English soccer team have perfected the art of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in big tournaments over the years, for such misfortune to befall Australian rugby was far more of a shock.

 

The opening games of such a big series are often cagey affairs, fear of mistakes stifling enterprise. Not here. We were treated to four sumptuous tries, all scored by wingers – rugby marquee men and rugby’s equivalent of footy’s full forward or soccer’s striker. Scrum-half Will Genia out-thought the Lions when Australia were awarded a penalty near their won line after twelve minutes. As the visitors anticipated a kick to touch Genia tapped and ran, getting deep into the Lions’ half. As he was finally closed down he poked the ball behind the defence with his foot and the supporting Folau scooped it up to outpace the cover to the try line.  Lions’ winger George North then showed he is not just about size and power. Fielding an aimless clearance kick from Berrick Barnes in his own half, he showed such pace and swerve that none of the Wallabies he passed were able to lay a finger on him.

 

Although the penalty count was fairly even Leigh Halfpenny’s superior place-kicking accuracy over James O’Connor had given the Lions a six point lead after half an hour. But Folau[TL1]  was about to put his stamp on the game. First he somehow managed to knock North into touch inches short of the corner flag when the 107 kg Welsh winger looked destined to score. Then he strode onto a long pass from fellow debutant Ben Mowen. Faced with a line of four defenders between him and the line he shimmied, stepped between the first two and ran around the others to score in the corner.

 

The Wallabies’ mounting injury list took its toll in the second half. The loss of backs Christian Leali’ifano to concussion, in the first tackle of the game, and Berrick Barnes with a neck problem, forced forward Australia to re-deploy forward Michael Hooper in the three-quarter line. Lions’ wing Alex Cuthbert exploited Hooper’s poor positioning in the defence, sprinting through the gap and powering his way to the line. The Lions blew a couple of chances to put the game to bed. The Wallabies managed to win a scrum against the head five metres out from their own line, when the Lions were looking for a pushover try, and Folau sprinted to regather Genia’s clearing kick then had the strength to hold off three Lions until support arrived. The Wallabies started to gain ascendancy at the set piece as the clock ticked by, and Beale pushed a penalty attempt wide of the right post a few minutes before the final act saw him on his back and the ball roll harmlessly wide of the post to hand the Lions victory.

Despite the loss there is much upside for the Wallabies. Will Genia showed he is always capable of creating scoring opportunities. Leading British TV commentator and scribe Stuart Barnes described Genia after the game as the world’s best rugby player. Coach Robbie Deans can re-think the fly-half position. James O’Connor did not steer his team around the park as effectively as Jonny Sexton did the Lions. He would be more effective at full-back or on the wing, and the injuries sustained create vacancies in those positions, with Beale to start at ten. The forwards turned around the Lions’ dominance at scrum time, winning two penalties from their resurgence in that area late in the game. Skipper James Horwill has been cleared to play in the second test, despite an ugly-looking incident in a third minute ruck which saw Lions’ lock forward Alun Wyn Jones require stitches above his eye. The disciplinary hearing overnight ruled that they could not prove the incident was not accidental. Kurtley Beale will hopefully wear a proper pair of boots with screw-in studs on Saturday night at Etihad Stadium, as opposed to the moulded pair more akin to ballet pumps he wore in Brisbane. And there is Folau.


 [TL1]

Comments

  1. Peter Hulthen says:

    The game last Saturday night had people on the edge of their seats right up until the final siren. The introduction of Kurtley Beal into the game brought it a new level. Just imagine if Quade Cooper had been there to link up with Kurtley. Izzy had the time of his life and maybe now has the reason to stay in rugby. Sad to see so many injuries.
    Maybe this had something to do with the sub standard Lang Park surface.
    Go the Wallabies next Saturday.

  2. Luke Reynolds says:

    Saturday nights game was sport at it’s best. Loved every minute of a tough, hard hitting match that had plenty of moments of brilliance.

    Will Genia was absolutely superb, whether it’s for the Wallabies or the Reds, he always steps up in big games. Folau was just brilliant to watch, hope he sticks with the real Rugby code.

Leave a Comment

*