O’Connor strikes for the Wallabies – at last
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James O'Connor looks to break through for the Wallabies in their 15-14 win over the Lions. (Tim Anger Photography)
It took controversial Wallaby flyhalf James O’Connor 156 minutes to do something meaningful against the Lions. But it was well worth the wait.
His perfectly timed pass to Adam Ashley-Cooper put the outside centre into a hole as wide as Sydney Heads for what turned out to be the match-winning, and series-saving try – and a come-from-behind 16-15 scoreline.
Up until then O’Connor was just making up the Wallaby numbers.
He had a first-Test shocker, and was treading the same path last night in the second Test of dropping regulation passes, throwing wayward passes and missing tackles, until that magic 76th moment in front of a record Etihad Stadium crowd of 56,771, who almost raised the closed roof.
But the job wasn’t done. The conversion had to be successful.
Step up Christian Lealiifano for the biggest moment of his rugby life. Having been pole-axed 50 seconds into his Test debut last week, and carted off, this was effectively his debut.
He had landed three from three penalties to keep the Wallabies in touch, but this conversion was very missable a long way out.
With ice flowing through his veins, Lealiifano struck the ball true. It never looked like missing, and the Wallaby win was secure.
There’s not a struck match between these two sides with scorelines of Lions 23-21 and Wallabies 16-15. So the series decider next Saturday night at ANZ Stadium promises to be a cracker for an 80,000-plus crowd.
What can we expect, even demand?
More than anything, a referee who will give both teams room and time to unleash their running rugby instead of pinging them off the paddock as Chris Pollock and Craig Joubert have done in the first two Tests.
And no doubt Frenchman Romain Poite will do the same in Sydney unless the IRB tells him to pull his head in and be No. 31 on show, and not No. 1.
Both sides must improve their handling, especially the Wallabies.
With 54 percent possession last night, dominating the rucks and mauls 106-47, making 107 runs to 56, making 501 metres to 229, and forcing the Lions to make 167 tackles to 72, the Wallabies should have romped it in.
But they very nearly blew it by turning over possession 20-11 with elementary schoolboy mistakes, and it was frustrating to watch.
Both sides are also guilty of starving their wingers, all of them match-winners – Wallabies Israel Folau and Digby Ioane in the first Test, Folau and Joe Tomane last night.
For the Lions, George North and Alex Cuthbert in the first, with North and Tommy Bowe in the second.
Importantly, skippers James Horwill and Sam Warburton could both be missing for the decider.
Horwill must beat a stomping charge for the second time, and he’s on rocky ground – Warburton a hamstring tear.
Standing by to take over – Wallaby Will Genia, the man of the series, and Irish legend Brian O’Driscoll, just seven caps away from ousting George Gregan’s 139 as international rugby’s most capped player.
For mine, Genia is the difference where there’s nothing between the two sides.
He never ceases to amaze with his consistent creativity, and inspiration.
This has been a magnificent series, with just the decider to go.
Both sides have proved they can be decent disciples of the game they play in heaven.
And both can be better. Let next Saturday be that time.
Romain Poite take note.