A nail-biting win over the ACT Brumbies was one of the stand-out victories of the Lions’ most-recent trip to Australia.
The Lions somehow registered their final victory of the tour having trailed 22-10 at half-time. Controversial Englishmen Austin Healey and Matt Dawson were the heroes of the hour, scoring 25 of the Lions’ 30 points between them.
Dawson’s pre-match diary entries had caused uproar in the lead up to the match, while Healey’s confrontation with Justin Harrison after each of his two tries would have lasting effects after the game’s scintillating conclusion.
It was an emotional night for everyone involved, with a supposedly split Lions squad showing the kind of uncompromising team spirit so closely associated with one of the greatest touring sides sport has to offer.
ACT BRUMBIES 28 BRITISH & IRISH LIONS 30
Half-time: 22-10 Venue: Bruce Stadium, Canberra Attendance: 20,093
Scorers: ACT Brumbies: Tries – Bartholomeusz, Gordon, Tuabvii; Cons – Hall 2; Pens – Hall 3; Lions: Tries – Healey 2, Wallace; Cons – Dawson 3; Pens – Dawson 3
SETTING THE SCENE
The Lions arrived in Canberra on the back of a stunning first Test victory over the Wallabies three days earlier, yet all was not rosy in the tourists’ camp.
Despite the 29-13 thrashing of the World Champions in the opening international, there appeared to be some discord among the wider squad.
Matt Dawson’s tour diary had upset the apple cart with its criticism of the quantity and quality of training, with the England scrum-half becoming the centre of attention for all the wrong reasons at a critical time on the tour. Dawson’s criticisms aired on the morning of the first Test and there was talk that the 28-year-old would be sent home for his outspoken attack on the way the tour was being run.
Graham Henry and Donal Lenihan were obviously perturbed but the management decided against imposing the ultimate sanction of forcing Dawson to pack his bags. Instead, he was given an immediate chance to make some sort of amends for his decision to bring private Lions business into the public domain.
Of the starting XV from the first Test, only Martin Corry was asked to begin the match against the Brumbies just three days later. The Leicester back row started at No8 for the tourists, playing his third game in eight days as a result of Colin Charvis’ suspension.
It was a different story for the used and unused replacements from that first Test victory, however, with Graham Henry naming six of the seven in the matchday 22 for the Canberra clash.
Iain Balshaw, Martyn Williams, Dawson and Healey all faced the Brumbies from the start, with Dafydd James, Gordon Bulloch and Jason Leonard named on the bench. Test skipper Martin Johnson joined them for what would be one of the most talked about mid-week victories of recent tours.
Ben Cohen made up an All-English back three alongside Balshaw and Healey, while 1993 and ’97 tourist Scott Gibbs formed a Welsh centre pairing with Swansea team-mate Mark Taylor.
Irishman Ronan O’Gara and villain of the week Dawson started at halfback, with Corry and Williams joined by tour replacement David Wallace in the back row.
Ronan O’Gara lined up against Pat Howard (tackler) at fly-half
Scott Murray and Jeremy Davidson, who had both been expected to challenge for a Test spot before the departure for Australia, were selected together in the second row, with Darren Morris, Dai Young and Dorian West named at loosehead, tighthead and hooker respectively.
For ACT, Pat Howard faced a number of his former Leicester club-mates just a month-and-a-half after helping the Tigers claim their first Heineken Cup crown. Howard, who would later return to the East Midlands in a coaching capacity, took
over playmaking duties from Wallaby fly-half Stephen Larkham.
Larkham was one of nine Australian internationals missing from the Brumbies line up, with Andrew Walker, Joe Roff, George Greegan, Jeremy Paul, David Giffin, Owen Finegan and George Smith all having started the first Test in Brisbane and Ben Darwin having been used as a 69th-minute replacement.
Despite the absence of their big-name stars, the Brumbies were still able to call on five members of the Australia A squad who had inflicted the Lions’ first defeat of the tour just a fortnight earlier. Future Sale Sharks centre Graeme Bond was joined by James Holbeck in the centre, with Mark Bartholomeusz and Peter Ryan also included. Justin Harrison was named at lock 11 days before becoming the toast of Australia when he would pinch lineout possession during the closing stages of the third Test on July 14.
ACT Brumbies: Mark Bartholomeusz; Damian McInally, Graeme Bond, James Holbeck, Willie Gordon; Pat Howard, Travis Hall; Angus Scott, Adam Freier, Matt Weaver, Justin Harrison, Dan Vickerman, Des Tuabvii, R Williams (c) Peter Ryan
Replacements (used): David Pusey, R Samo, C Pither, Julian Huxley
British & Irish Lions: Iain Balshaw (Bath/England); Austin Healey (Leicester/England), Scott Gibbs (Swansea/Wales), Mark Taylor (Swansea/Wales), Ben Cohen (Northampton/England); Ronan O’Gara (Munster/Ireland), Matt Dawson (Northampton/England); Darren Morris (Swansea/Wales), Dorian West (Leicester/England), Dai Young (Cardiff/Wales), Scott Murray (Saracens/Scotland), Jeremy Davidson (Castres/Ireland), David Wallace (Munster/Ireland), Martyn Williams (Cardiff/Wales), Martin Corry (Leicester/England)
Replacements (used): Jason Leonard (Harlequins/England), Gordon Bulloch (Glasgow/Scotland), Daffyd James (Llanelli/Wales)
Unused: Martin Johnson (Leicester/England), Malcolm O’Kelly (Leinster/Ireland), Neil Jenkins (Cardiff/Wales), Tyrone Howe (Ulster/Ireland)
Referee: Peter Marshall (Australia)
Austin Healey started on the wing having been a first Test replacement
The mid-week encounter with the reigning Super 12 Champions, and therefore the best non-international side across Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, turned out to be one of the greatest Lions comeback in more than 100 years of touring. As far as Dawson was concerned, the script couldn’t have been written much better. A last-minute conversion won it for the Lions, with Dawson the man to supply the golden touch.
The Lions made a shocking start in the Australian capital, with Brumbies full back Bartholomeusz breaking through three tackles on his way to the opening score with just seven minutes on the clock. Scrum-half Travis Hall added the conversion to give the hosts a 7-0 lead – an advantage they doubled four minutes later.
The absence of a television match official then worked against the Lions as winger Willie Gordon was given the benefit of doubt after Lions fans felt he may have stepped into touch prior to grabbing the Brumbies’ second try. Hall converted again to leave the Lions facing a 14-0 deficit with less than a quarter of an hour played.
The Lions got off the mark after 16 minutes thanks to Dawson’s first penalty of the night, but the Brumbies were soon further ahead courtesy of their third, and final, try.
No8 Ryan powered straight through the Lions defence before setting up fellow back row Des Tuabvii who dived over to further dampen the enthusiasm of the travelling Lions support.
Hall was off target with the conversion but Dawson followed suit, missing a kickable penalty after 25 minutes.
If Dawson’s unsuccessful three-point effort suggested that it would not be the Lions’ night, Murray’s uncharacteristic handling error seemed to heighten the possibility of that pessimistic outcome. Balshaw’s impressive work gave the Scotland second row a chance to claim his first try in Lions colours but Murray spilled the ball with only the line ahead of him.
It was a similar story seconds later as Wallace’s break opened up the Brumbies defence, but Taylor followed Murray in failing to hang on to what appeared to be a scoring pass.
To the relief of Taylor, Murray and everyone associated with the Lions, the tourists finally registered their first try eight minutes before the half-time break.
It came against the run of play as Healey picked off former Leicester team-mate Howard’s pass on halfway before racing unopposed to the Brumbies line. Dawson added the straightforward conversion from directly underneath the posts to bring the Lions back to within two scores at 19-10.
David Wallace scored the first of three Lions tries in Canberra
Eddie Jones’ men increased their lead before half-time, however, as Hall kicked a simple penalty after the Lions were penalised for holding on deep in their own territory.
Trailing by 12 points at the interval, the Lions worked their way back into the game within the opening 15 minutes of the second period. After starting the first-half in the worst possible fashion, the Lions made amends by scoring 10 points between the 44th and 55th minutes.
O’Gara was the catalyst for the start of the comeback, with his break from Dawson’s quick tap penalty paving the way for Wallace to cross just to the right of the uprights.
Dawson converted to close the gap to a single score at 22-17 but the Northampton No9 missed another penalty with 53 minutes gone. Dawson then responded positively just two minutes later as he stepped up to slot his second three-pointer from 35 metres as the Lions moved to within two points of the Super 12 Champions.
The Lions were dealt a double blow with just over an hour played as a high tackle from Balshaw looked to have cost Henry’s side their chance of a remarkable victory. The Bath full back received 10 minutes in the sin bin for his indiscretion, with Hall kicking the resulting penalty to increase the ACT lead to five points at 25-20.
The Brumbies’ one-man advantage didn’t last long, though, as Ryan became the second player to be given a yellow card following a punch up two minutes after Balshaw received his punishment.
Dawson’s third penalty made it 25-23 with 10 minutes left to play and, although Hall matched Dawson’s effort four minutes later, the Lions still had time to finally turn the match in their favour.
With the hooter having already sounded, the Lions put together the best move of the match as they kept the ball alive through forwards and backs. The tourists recycled possession superbly under intense pressure, knowing that one mistake would confirm defeat. With a hint of an overlap, Swansea prop Darren Morris somehow shipped the ball along the line for Balshaw to give Healey a sight of the line. The Lions wing danced inside two covering tackles to tie the scores and deny the Brumbies what would have been a memorable win.
Dawson still had to write the final script, however, as he was faced with a testing kick from 14 metres in from the left-hand touchline. The Boys Own story was completed with the final action of the game, as Dawson held his nerve to grab the news headlines for all the right reasons.
Matt Dawson slotted a crucial conversion with the last play of the game
WHAT THEY SAID
Matt Dawson (Lions scrum-half and villain turned hero)
"The win was a big moment for everyone. I personally got very emotional, but I think there were many others who felt likewise.
"The conversion was like a pressure valve being released. It blew out all the emotions of the previous few days. I did breakdown in the dressing room reflecting on all the negatives of the preceding 72 hours. Dai Young and Scott Gibbs had given a very important and passionate team talk at half-time, reminding us all what it meant to wear the Lions jersey. There was 40 minutes left for me to make amends.
"I realised that this was a great opportunity to put some things to rights. I cleared my head and went through all the routines I’d spent hours and hours doing on the training field. I blocked it all out and let rip. It was a good contact and a good feeling."
Darren Morris (Lions and Wales prop)
"I was in the right place at the right time for Austin’s try. Big Jim Williams and I bounced off each other and I gave a pass out the back door to Austin Healey to go over in the corner. For Matt Dawson to then kick that goal, you couldn’t have written it better yourself.
"We had a massive team spirit in the camp and I think that shone through on that evening more than on other games. It was a self-belief.
"We went in at half-time had a good look at ourselves. There was nowhere for anyone to hide and we came out in the second half and put our heads on the block. Thankfully, we did it, and to win it with the last kick of the game was quite apt for the tour."
Eddie Butler (Former Wales back row and now journalist)
"The game began as if all the undercurrents had converged and finally swamped the midweek camp. The Test XV had started brilliantly in balmy Brisbane; the dirt trackers in cold Canberra leaked two tries in the first 10 minutes.
"Matt Dawson had the conversion to win the game. It never looked like missing. The Lions dirt-trackers mobbed their mutineer-in-chief. This had been their Test, and they had passed it."
Austin Healey was one of the star performers against the Brumbies
The Lions in Canberra:
As Canberra was only established in 1913, the Lions have only appeared in Australia’s capital city on three occasions. The outbreak of the First and Second World Wars ensured their first match in Canberra didn’t take place until 1950, with that fixture and the following two in 1966 and 2001 all resulting in Lions victories.
P 3 W 3
1950: New South Wales Combine Country 3 Lions 47
1966: New South Wales Country 3 Lions 6
2001: ACT Brumbies 28 Lions 30