Graham Henry's tourists went into the game on a huge high having crushed the World Champions 29-13 in Brisbane in the opening rubber just a week earlier. The Lions had dominated all bar the final quarter of that enthralling encounter and the seemingly endless list of critics who had written the tourists off were now changing their tune ahead of the second international.
A win of any sorts would have seen the Lions claim back-to-back series wins for the first time since 1974 and for the opening 40 minutes it looked as though Martin Johnson and co were about to write themselves into the history books as a new breed of Lion legends.
But by the end of a physically and mentally draining Test match, all that had changed. The Wallabies had been wounded but not finished off and momentum had swung back in their favour. It was a swing that would change the outcome of the series and a blow from which the Lions are only now on the verge of finally recovering from.
AUSTRALIA 35 BRITISH & IRISH LIONS 14
HT: 6-11 Attendance: 56,605
Scorers: Australia: Tries - Roff 2, Burke; Con - Burke; Pens - Burke 6; Lions: Try - Back; Pens - Wilkinson 3
SETTING THE SCENE
The Lions arrived in Melbourne on the front foot. A four-try victory first time up had built confidence and the thousands upon thousands of fans who had travelled to the other side of the globe were in high spirits. Those British and Irish supporters had made Brisbane a Sea of Red, prompting the Australian government to call for a greater show of Wallaby support in the second and third Tests. The Qantas Wallabies and the Aussie population at large were clearly rattled.
Everything seemed to be edging in the Lions' favour. The Wallabies had only really featured in the opening rubber once the result was beyond doubt such was the Lions' supremacy at The Gabba. However, there were suggestions that the Lions could sense what was to come. Henry and co had been keen to stress that the job was only half done and that a wounded Wallaby remained one of sport's most dangerous animals. The Australian people are known for their never-say-die attitude when it comes to the sporting arena and the Lions insisted they wouldn't be taking their hosts lightly as they looked to follow the class of 1997 in beating a world champion side on opposition turf.
Perhaps unsurprisingly considering the commanding nature of their win in Brisbane, the Lions made just one change to their starting XV for the second international. Martin Corry was the unlucky player in question as he made way for the fit again Neil Back. Back had been unavailable for the opening rubber due to injury and Corry had excelled in his debut Test for the Lions after being called up as a replacement for Simon Taylor early on in the tour.
But while Corry could feel hard done by to only be among the replacements this time around, it was hard to argue with the logic behind Henry's selection. Back was the more experienced man, the one with a greater international pedigree and the player who had already tasted series success with the Lions in '97. Plus the 32-year-old was a specialist openside, something the Lions had been without at The Gabba. Back's return saw England team-mate Richard Hill move back to his more customary position of blindside, with Corry replacing Swansea and Wales flanker Colin Charvis on the bench.
They were two further changes among the replacements, with Dorian West taking over from Gordon Bulloch as second-choice hooker and Neil Jenkins coming in for Austin Healey among the backs. Healey had been due to continue his substitute role but an injury picked up in the mid-week win over ACT Brumbies saw him forced out of contention after initially being named in the 22.
The Lions made one change to their starting line up following the first Test win in Brisbane
As for the Aussies, critics suggested head coach Rod Macqueen would be tempted to make wholesale changes following the comprehensive nature of the previous week's defeat, but the veteran tactician refused to panic and instead kept faith with the vast majority of the side beaten in Brisbane.
Chris Latham did pay the price for his lacklustre defensive display that had seen him sidestepped on a sixpence by Jason Robinson in the opening minutes at The Gabba, however. Latham made way for future Newcastle Falcons full back Matt Burke in what has to go down as one of the most inspired alterations in recent years. Burke would go on to play a starring role in both the second and third Tests, with his nerveless goal kicking a major factor behind the Qantas Wallabies' series success.
While Latham was the only back to be dropped from the starting line up, Macqueen made a further two changes in his pack. The Wallaby eight had been thoroughly outplayed the first time the two sides met and Macqueen reacted by changing his starting hooker and tight-head prop. Jeremy Paul and Glen Panaho both missed out, with neither even selected on the bench, as Micheal Foley and Rod Moore were brought in to stabilise the setpiece.
Moore was drafted in from outside the first Test 22 while Brendan Cannon also joined the party after Foley's inclusion and Paul's full demotion.
For the first Test teams and a review of the Lions' 29-13 victory, click here
Australia: Matt Burke (New South Wales Waratahs); Andrew Walker (ACT Brumbies), Daniel Herbert (Queensland Reds), Nathan Grey (New South Wales Waratahs), Joe Roff (ACT Brumbies); Stephen Larkham (ACT Brumbies), George Greegan (ACT Brumbies); Nick Stiles (Queensland Reds), Michael Foley (Queensland Reds), Rod Moore (New South Wales Waratahs), David Giffin (ACT Brumbies), John Eales (c) (Queensland Reds), Owen Finegan (ACT Brumbies), George Smith (ACT Brumbies), Toutai Kefu (Queensland Reds)
Replacements: Brendan Cannon (Queensland Reds), Ben Darwin (ACT Brumbies), Matt Cockbain (Queensland Reds), David Lyons (New South Wales Waratahs), Chris Whittaker (New South Wales Waratahs), Elton Flatley (Quuensland Reds), Chris Latham (Queensland Reds)
British & Irish Lions: Matt Perry (Bath/England); Daffyd James (Llanelli/Wales), Brian O'Driscoll (Leinster/Ireland), Rob Henderson (Wasps/Ireland), Jason Robinson (Sale/England); Jonny Wilkinson (Newcastle/England), Rob Howley (Cardiff/Wales);Tom Smith (Brive/Scotland), Keith Wood (Harlequins/Ireland), Phil Vickery (Gloucester/England), Martin Johnson (c) (Leicester/England), Danny Grewcock (Saracens/England), Richard Hill (Saracens/England), Neil Back (Leicester/England), Scott Quinnell (Llanelli/Wales)
Replacements: Dorian West (Leicester/England), Jason Leonard (Harlequins/England), Martin Corry (Leicester/England), Martyn Williams (Cardiff/Wales), Matt Dawson (Northampton/England), Neil Jenkins (Cardiff/Wales), Iain Balshaw (Bath/England)
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)
If only this one had ended they way it had begun. If the conclusion to the second Test had been anywhere as positive as the start then the Lions would have been celebrating long into the night.
Henry's men opened up a 6-0 lead courtesy of two early Jonny Wilkinson penalties before going on to extend their advantage to eight points before the half-time break. Wilkinson struck first in the eighth minute and then again in the 11th as the Lions dismissed suggestions that this Test would kick off in the same manner in which the first had concluded - with the Wallabies on top.
Burke marked his first start in the No15 shirt since the 1999 World Cup with a uncharacteristic penalty miss two minutes later but unfortunately it wasn't a sign of things to come. The Aussie full back got his side on the scoreboard with 17 minutes gone after opposite number Matt Perry had been slow to react in defence and the Lions were penalised underneath their own posts. But that setback didn't affect the tourists as they crossed for the game's opening try two minutes before the half-hour mark.
The Lions drove a lineout following good work from O'Driscoll and Hill in the previous passage of play, a phase that had resulted in injury to O'Driscoll and concern for the Red Army. But while all minds were on whether BOD would run off the knock, the Lions caught the Wallabies napping as they powered a driving maul towards the tryline. Just as he had done on seemingly endless occasions for Leicester, Back emerged from the bottom of a pile of bodies clutching the ball and celebrating the score. Not a bad way to mark your return to the side on the biggest stage of all. Wilkinson failed to add the extras but the Lions were 11-3 to the good and looking for all the world like series winners.
Next came one of the defining moments of the tour, although it wasn't until the second half and the final Test that the magnitude of Nathan Grey's distasteful challenge on the helpless Hill really came to light. The fearless flanker was left poleaxed by Grey's leading elbow in a collision that initially looked careless but has since been seen by many as calculated. Forced to leave the field for emergency treatment on 34 minutes, Hill returned to the fray two minutes later but was eventually forced off for good six minutes after the break.
From the moment Hill was almost knocked unconscious, things went downhill for the Lions. A 36th-minute penalty from Burke after Johnson felled Stephen Larkham with a high tackle reduced the gap to a single score and it was almost all Australia from that point onwards.
The Wallabies gave the Lions no room to breath in the second half of the second Test
The Lions had a chance to re-establish the eight-point lead just before the whistle but Wilkinson's penalty attempt couldn't find the target. Moments after the players returned to the field of play, and in little more than the drop of a hat, the status quo had been altered, the momentum had changed and the Lions' adventure had started to unravel.
Wilkinson may forever be remembered for his drop goal heroics in the 2003 World Cup Final but his Lions career may unfortunately always be associated with the cruelest of interceptions that changed the complexion of a compelling series. The England playmaker, who had been nothing short of sensational on his first Lions tour, attempted to throw a speculative pass having attacked the blindside just 35 seconds after the restart. It was a road paved with good intentions but Wilkinson's execution let him down. A couple of inches higher and Daffyd James may have been in the clear. But big games are won on small margins and the length of Joe Roff's finger tips cost the Lions dear. Roff read the pass even before the ball had left Wilkinson's hand and the Wallaby wing picked it off with some ease before sprinting close to 50 metres for a runaway try.
Burke missed the touchline conversion but fast forward six minutes and the tide had most definitely turned. First, Burke slotted a 44th-minute penalty to give Australia the lead for the very first time and then Roff sped clear for his second try in the blink of an eye. This time it was his own fly-half who set him free, with Larkham's clever pass allowing him space out wide from where Roth stepped inside Robinson and dotted down close to the posts.
Burke made no mistake with the conversion to see the hosts lead 21-11 and the Lions' frustrations grew ever clearer when Wilkinson sent a crucial penalty wide of the posts a minute later. Wilkinson did bring the Lions back to within a converted try two minutes before the hour mark but it was the closest they came to reversing the deficit. Instead it was the Aussies who pushed on in the closing stages, adding a third try and three more penalties to secure a big, big win.
The final 14 points all came from Burke as he powered over for a close-range try after good work from blindside flanker Owen Finegan with 15 minutes remaining before giving the scoreline an unnecessary gloss with a hat-trick of successful strikes.
Injury was added to insult for the Lions when halfbacks Rob Howley and Wilkinson left the field in agony, the former being ruled out of the final Test with a broken rib.
Jonny Wilkinson was stretchered off late on in Melbourne, while Rob Howley broke a rib
WHAT THEY SAID
Matt Dawson (Lions replacement scrum-half)
"The boys are very disappointed. We are disappointed in ourselves, especially because of the stark contrast of our performance in the two halves. We were dominant in the first half and defended well but we were blitzed by a very good Aussie side in the second-half when they made amends.
"We had two or three good opportunities to put away which we didn't in the first half and they may have changed the complex of the game. We played well before the interval but it is the result that counts. They beat us by 21 points so that is going to hurt."
Joe Roff (Australia's two-try hero)
"We were hurting a lot over the first Test and what those guys told us (sporting stars such as Pat Rafter and Steve Waugh and Prime Minister John Howard) gave everyone a big lift. They were saying they knew we would make our own piece of history, but there is no denying that we needed a bit of luck to do it."
Jack Rowell (former England coach writing in the Independent)
"Credit must be given to the Wallabies management. After being submerged last week, they were able to re-fit and re-launch their side, not just strategically but mentally. This second Test saw the Wallabies, who were clearly filled with determination from the outset, passing through the mental stages of relief and belief before finally settling on self-confidence. In short, the right attitude.
"The set pieces had been revitalised and the Lions were out-thought by better strategy. Scrums were held long enough to obtain good ball, without the need for Toutai Kefu to pick up as happened last week. Though superior, their opponents' scrum was wheeled to spoil quality possession on the Lions put-in.
"At the line-out Australia varied the throw and the jumpers to win good possession, while applying pressure on the Lions' throws to slow down the supply of ball. The Wallabies could have been overrun, because the Lions had hit the ground running at the start of the game, and might have been, had they not overhauled their game. Their pride had been dented last week, but as World Cup holders they bounced back and the complacency, rustiness, whatever, was gone."
Stuart Barnes (former Lions fly-half writing in the Telegraph)
"The Lions vowed to move the point of attack and they succeeded sometimes to dazzling effect. Be it the dancing feet of Brian O'Driscoll, the unsettling half-breaks of Jonny Wilkinson or the powerful surges of Scott Quinnell at his bullish best, the Lions tore the Wallabies' first-up defence to shreds. However, the sharp jabs didn't lead to a knock-out blow and with it the Lions lost a golden chance to win the series.
"'This match will be decided in the top three inches,' said Graham Henry, pointing to the grey matter with his index finger on Friday. Alas, for the British & Irish Lions, he was right. A week ago the Lions slammed the door on any Australian second-half comeback with O'Driscoll's waltzing try - 19-3, game, set and match. The first minute of this half was another seminal moment in the series. It was Wilkinson's blunder that fuelled the Wallabies' comeback. In the space of three inches, the Lions blew their big chance."
Brian O'Driscoll (Lions centre)
"Naturally, we are all very down. It is irritating to have played so poorly in the second half. We know we should have put away more opportunities in the first. Australia punished us by scoring from their opportunities in the second. Some people have said Australia's intercept try at the start of the second half was the crucial score. But I don't agree. That only made it 11-11 and the game could still have gone either way. The score after that was the killer. That's when the match started to slip away from us."
Brian O'Driscoll had to wait another 12 years to play in a winning Lions Test team
Eddie Butler (Former Wales captain writing in the Guardian)
"'We never play badly twice.' It was the pledge the Wallabies made on their arrival here in Melbourne, and they kept their word. The Lions squandered their chances in the first half. And still they led at half-time by five points. That was not bad. If they cranked it up again they might have run away with the second Test as they had the first.
"But within 10 minutes of the start of the second half it was all over. The Wallabies had scored two tries and kicked a penalty and the series was level. It was a depressing period for the tourists. Whatever they said to each other during the interval will not go down in the annals of stirring oratory. So much went right at the start; so much was horribly out of order by the end."
Peter Jenkins (writing in The Australian)
"The Joe Roff intercept try, followed by the scrum shunt that provided the possession for another try to the left wing reversed the momentum of this match as surely as if the Lions had been fed a bagful of Valium at half-time. It was one of the Wallabies' greatest comebacks.
"Admittedly, they were down by only five points at half-time, and never trailed by more than eight, but it could have been 28. To suggest the Wallabies could turn around a first-half whipping to outscore the Lions 29-3 in the second half would have warranted a padded cell stay. It was inexplicable, considering how dominant the Lions had been.
"The tourists' one weakness was finishing. That inability to convert pressure to points was crucial. The Wallabies were still alive at the break when they had no right to be."
The Lions in Melbourne
The Etihad Stadium hosted the first ever Lions Test in Melbourne and the boys are back in town tonight
The Lion have played just eight fixtures in Melbourne, that's 33 less than in Sydney.
The city had never hosted more than one game on any Lions tour until this year and it didn't feature at all on four of the Lions' 11 previous visits.
Of those eight matches, five have been against Victoria, one against Australia's second string, one against the Rebels, and only once have the Lions faced the Wallabies in Melbourne. The Lions have won all seven of the non-Test fixtures but, unfortunately, their solitary defeat came in the most important game of them all.
P 8 W 7 L 1
1888: Victoria 3 Lions 9
1899: Victoria 0 Lions 30
1930: Victoria 36 Lions 41
1959: Victoria 18 Lions 53
1966: Victoria 14 Lions 24
1989: Australia B 18 Lions 23
2001: Australia 35 Lions 14
2013: Melbourne Rebels 0 Lions 35