British and Irish Lions: Halfpenny just the ticket

Leigh Halfpenny.  Picture: Getty
Leigh Halfpenny. Picture: Getty
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THE richest tickets may have topped £200, but a record crowd packed into Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium got their money’s worth on Saturday night. No-one was leaving this one early or demanding a refund.

Both sides scored two tries and all of them by wingers. The two Welsh giants Alex Cuthbert and George North scored one apiece while both of the Wallabies’ touchdowns came courtesy of code crosser Israel Folau who was a revelation. As well as rugby league the big winger has played Aussie Rules in the last 12 months and it showed as he snatched every aerial ball that came remotely close to him.

The difference between the two teams was in front of goal where Leigh Halfpenny doubled his misses for the tour. The Welsh full-back missed one penalty to sit alongside his one miss against Combined Country.

How the Wallabies needed someone with his accuracy. Somehow coach Robbie Deans sent his team out to play without a front-line, reliable goal kicker and paid the price. James O’Connor missed two penalties in the first ten minutes and Kurtley Beale fluffed two in the final ten including one with the last kick which would have won it for the Wallabies. His anchor leg slipped as he went to kick the ball from about 43 metres out and almost dead on to the posts. It should have been straightforward but the roar from the Lions’ fans behind the posts told a different story.

The Lions were putting on a brave face after scraping home and coach Warren Gatland’s claims that there is much more to come from this side were backed up by Tom Youngs who hit his man every time at the sidelines. “We left some opportunities out there and that is something we need to address,” said the hooker. “We need to do better in certain areas because we didn’t attack as well as we would have liked. We all understand that there is much more to come from this side.

“We didn’t play to our full potential on Saturday night but we still managed to win the game and that gives us such a boost going into the game in Melbourne. We didn’t play well but we dug out a win. It was an incredible experience on Saturday but we all know we can take our game to another level.”

Youngs should know since he had a quiet game for a man who is usually pretty busy in loose play, popping up everywhere and carrying with all the enthusiasm and speed of a man who spent most of his adult life in the midfield.

Still, Saturday’s opener was closer than anyone in the Lions camp wanted and Youngs admitted that, after being substituted, the England hooker, who will stand toe-to-toe with some of the toughest hombres in world rugby, was too afraid to look when Kurtley Beale lined up that late, late penalty.

“I couldn’t look at the end. I was just thinking ‘miss, miss’. I was sat next to Adam Jones on the bench and I just heard him shout, ‘he’s slipped!’ At that moment I knew we’d won and it was a tremendous feeling. It would have been a massive blow to lose it at the end. As it is we go into the second Test with the momentum behind us.”

Quite where that leaves Australia is anyone’s guess.Possibly scraping the barrel for anyone with a pair of boots after losing half their back line to injury on Saturday. Their skipper James Horwill was cited for allegedly stamping on Alun-Wyn Jones but cleared by a hearing overnight on Saturday.

Gatland raised a laugh in the post-match press conference by suggesting that the Wallabies’ injury woes could signal the sight of Quade Cooper riding to the rescue. To put that in perspective the Wallabies media manager suggested that he was ahead of the Reds’ stand-off – at least in Deans’ pecking order.

Meanwhile the biggest win in almost anyone’s career left England lock Geoff Parling disappointed after missing the birth of his daughter.

“I spoke to [Leicester colleague] Dan Cole after the match and I said to him: ‘My wife has just given birth to a healthy baby daughter. We’ve just beaten Australia in the first Test but this still feels like a defeat.’ I’ve got some making up to do when I get home, that’s for sure.”

If he helps the Lions to another win on Saturday in Melbourne you suspect Parling Junior will forgive her dad just about anything.