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Lions take series in style

The long wait is over, break out the champagne the British & Irish Lions have won a Test series at last. A record breaking finish brought the Tom Richards Trophy into Lions hands for the first time.

You had to go back to Martin Johnson’s side of 1997 in South Africa for the last Lions team to win a Test series, but Warren Gatland’s class of 2013 ensured the Lions were able to celebrate their 125th anniversary in style with a convincing 2-1 series victory over the third best team in world rugby.
Leigh Halfpenny was voted the Man of the Match for his magnificent performance as he helped himself to 21 points and paved the way for two of the four tries. His series total of 49 points gave him the record for a Lions series and his 21 points in the match was another Lions individual record, overtaking Jonny Wilkinson and Stephen Jones’ 20.
On the team front the 41 points scored added 10 to the Lions’ previous best against the Wallabies. In the end it was the biggest rout the Wallabies had ever suffered since fixtures began in 1899.
The atmosphere at the ANZ Stadium was electric as a record crowd for the reconfigured gourd of 83,702 packed the venue of the 2000 Olympic Games to witness the biggest rugby game in Australia since the 2003 Rugby World Cup final.
The Lions had triumphed 23-21 in Brisbane in the first test, but the Wallabies had battled back to win the second 16-15 in Melbourne. That meant it was winner-takes-all in Sydney with the Tom Richards Trophy up for grabs for the triumphant team.
It had been the same scenario in 1989, when Finlay Calder’s Lions had won the vital third Test, and in 2001, when John Eales led the Wallabies to victory, and the Lions got off to a flying start.
Stand in skipper Alun Wyn Jones won the toss and elected to kick-off. Johnny Sexton put the ball into the home 22 and Will Genia hesitated as he went for the ball and knocked-on. The Lions were awarded a free kick at the scrum and Mike Phillips quickly sent Tommy Bowe racing for the line.
The Irish wing got to within five metres and then Sean O’Brien and the captain carried on. Eventually Phillips retrieved from a ruck in the shadow of the home posts and popped a pass to Alex Corbisiero that allowed the English prop to take the tackle and roll over the line for a try.
The clock showed the game had only been going 77 seconds and Leigh Halfpenny duly added the conversion. Nothing went right for the Wallabies in the opening 30 minutes. After thatn calamitous opening they lost George Smith with a head knock for five minutes, had tight head prop Ben Alexander sent to the sin-bin after 25 minutes and then lost Israel Folau with a hamstring injury four minutes later.
To add to their woes the Lions scrum really went to work on them and came up with a series of penalties that allowed Halfpenny to kick four penalties to take his series tally at the end of the first half to 42 points – one more than the record set by his kicking coach Neil Jenkins in 1997 when the Lions last won a series.
Halfpenny’s first effort came off the half-way line to make it 10-0 and then, after Christian Leali’ifano had punished a silly error for off-side at the re-start, he added three more. It meant the Lions led 19-3 after 25 minutes and the Wallabies had it all to do.
But James Horwill stayed clam and ordered his side to remain positive. He kicked to the corners for line-outs, rather than kick for goal, and he eventually got his reward with the last play of the half when James O’Connor danced inside opposite number Johnny Sexton and O’Brien to cross near the posts.
Leali’ifano’s conversion cut the gap to nine points at the break and he reduced it further with two penalties in the opening six minutes of the second half as he punished Dan Lydiate for not rolling away in the tackle and then the Lions’ defensive line for pulling down a driving maul form a five metre line-out.
All of a sudden the match was in familiar territory with barely any margin between the two teams. The momentum had swung hugely in Australia’s favour and they were the team now looking to go in for the kill.
The Lions needed to steady themselves and they managed to do that with another mighty scrum as tight head Adam Jones popped Been Robinson out of the scrum to give Halfpenny the chance to shoot for his fifth penalty. He easily hit the target and then played a key role in the Lions’ second try.
Sexton brought in Bowe as his runner behind the threequarter line and he handed on to Jonathan Davies 30 metres out. He rode one tackle, passed to Halfepnny who then made ground into the 22 before passing inside out of his tackle to give Sexton a run around behind the posts.
Halfpenny converted to take his match tally to 19 points and he wasn’t finished with the Wallabies just yet. After gathering a kick on his own 10metre line he went on a run that took him past two defenders before passing to George North for his second try of the series.
Even though the conversion didn’t go over, the Welsh full back’s first miss of the evening, the Lions had surpassed their previous highest total against the Wallabies, of 31 in 1966. Now the Lions were in total control of the game and the series and Warren Gatland was able to ring the changes off the bench.
There was still more to come from the tourists, obviously saving their best till last, as they Toby Faletau won a line-out on the home 22 and Conor Murray, on for Phillips at scrum half, popped a pass to Jamie Roberts to allow the Welsh centre to use his strength and speed to race to the line for another try which Halfpenny converted.
It was party time after 16 long, agonising years and Sydney was destined to be painted red in a night of celebration.

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