Saturday’s clash proved to be everything the build-up promised and more, with the Wallabies last gasp victory one of the most exciting finishes to a Test match in recent memory. The Wallabies win sets up what should be a cracking decider between two sides that want the Richards Cup just as bad as each other. Below is a review of the forward clash from Saturday night.
Scrum time was a gamble for both sides on Saturday night, with the Wallabies holding an early ascendency, only for the Lions to hit back throughout the second half. Lions loosehead prop Mako Vunipola was easily outmuscled by Wallabies counterpart Benn Robinson early but managed make up for his initial difficulties. Additionally, on the other side of the scrum, Ben Alexander and Adam Jones had a fairly even battle – Alexander improving on his pedestrian performance from game one. The Wallabies were expected to surrender this area of the game before the tour began. Yet Australia brilliantly held their own, dominating tight and loose head feeds. This is by far one of the biggest surprises of the tour, not many would have thought that the Lions scrum would struggle as badly as it has throughout the first two Test’s.
The efficiency of the Wallabies at the lineout has never been a major problem over the past decade, and this series is continuing that trend. Led extremely well by Ben Mowen and skipper James Horwill, the Wallabies looked in control all night. The Lions were without virtuoso lineout leader Paul O’Connell and lost a couple balls off their own throw as a result, most memorably with two minutes remaining when replacement flanker Liam Gill snatched the ball and essentially handed the Wallabies victory. Again, the dominance would have to rest with the Wallabies here, the combination of hooker Stephen Moore and Mowen at lineouts is one that has been nurtured over the past two seasons at the Brumbies, and it shows.
Perhaps the most even contest between the two sides was the breakdown battle. The back-rowers from both sides were quite impressive and at times displayed immense strength over the ball. For the Wallabies, Horwill and flanker Michael Hooper were perhaps the most imposing in terms of workload and effect. For the Lions, skipper Sam Warburton put in a herculean effort, alongside number 8 Jamie Heaslip. There were no real weak links in either side, with each forward getting through a sufficient amount of dirty work that provided space for their respective backlines. Both sides should be happy with their execution and will be looking to replicate such performances this weekend.
The second half of last Saturday’s match may offer a sneak peek into the Third Test. No doubt the most significant and important Test of Australian Rugby since the 2003 World Cup Final. I for one am counting down the days. Go Wallabies.