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Match report: Lions scrape past battered Wallabies in Suncorp thriller

Kurtley Beale had two late opportunities to win the game for the hosts, but fell short.

THE BRITISH AND Irish Lions edged a thrilling opening Test 23-21 against the battered Wallabies Saturday to seize the momentum in their pursuit of a first series win in 16 years.

Both teams scored two tries, but although replacement back Kurtley Beale twice had the chance to kick the Wallabies to victory in the final minutes, he agonisingly missed both penalty attempts.

The Lions, who have not won a series since South Africa in 1997, remain unbeaten in eight Tests in Brisbane since 1899 and are now just one victory away from a long overdue series triumph.

Leigh Halfpenny’s goal-kicking ultimately proved the difference with three penalties and two conversions to ease home over the Wallabies, who missed five kicks at goal.

But the Lions were made to fight to the very end by a Wallaby side that had three players stretchered off with injury and finished with loose forward Michael Hooper playing in the centres.

The tourists will now look to clinch the series in the second Test in Melbourne next weekend, with a third Test in Sydney on July 6.

The Test will be long remembered by outstanding individual tries by Wallaby debutant Israel Folau and his Welsh opposite George North in a pulsating first half.

But the Wallabies had a major setback when debutant Christian Lealiifano was knocked out in making the first tackle of the match on Jonathan Davies and was stretchered off inside the first minute.

Pat McCabe came into the game with Lealiifano’s night over.

Brian O’Driscoll was penalised twice in the ruck and got a ticking-off by referee Chris Pollock, but flyhalf James O’Connor failed to capitalise, missing both his penalty attempts.

The Lions forward pack gained an early psychological blow when they pushed the Wallaby scrum backwards to a huge roar from the fans in red in the 52,499 crowd at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium.

The Wallabies defence held firm under pressure but Will Genia broke free on a quick tap and when faced by fullback Halfpenny, he kicked for winger Folau to pick up and run over for a try on his Wallaby debut in the 14th minute.

Halfpenny kicked his first penalty in the 24th minute to steady the Lions after the shock of Australia’s try.

But two minutes later, North put the visitors in front with a sensational solo try.

The powerful Welsh winger fielded Berrick Barnes’ aimless kick and beat four Wallaby defenders — McCabe, O’Connor, Barnes and Genia, to score in the left corner to an ear-splitting ovation.

Halfpenny converted from the sideline to put the Lions in front 10-7, with the Wallabies under immense pressure.

Australia had a big let-off when the marauding North went for the left corner in Genia’s tackle, only to put his elbow in touch in Folau’s covering tackle.

Halfpenny kicked the Lions three points further ahead with his second penalty and a 13-7 lead.

But Folau scored another extraordinary try six minutes before the break when he was given space to run at the defence off a Ben Mowen pass.

He prodigiously stepped past Jonny Sexton and beat two more tackles for a try double on debut.

O’Connor missed the sideline conversion to leave the home side trailing 13-12. He left eight points out on the field in the first half.

The Wallabies had a second player stretchered off when Berrick Barnes collided with Folau’s head under pressure from North and made way for Beale.

The Lions had a scoring chance in the final minute of the half but desperate Australia conceded a penalty which Halfpenny could not convert as the teams went into the break.

The Wallabies’ cruel luck with injuries continued when replacement McCabe became the third Australian stretchered off with an apparent neck injury minutes into the second period.

Liam Gill came on and openside flanker Michael Hooper went into the centres to replace McCabe.

The Lions cleverly worked play towards Hooper with a sweeping backline move and Sexton put Alex Cuthbert spearing through for a try after using O’Driscoll as a decoy runner.

Halfpenny’s conversion stretched the Lions’ advantage to 20-12.

O’Connor reduced the arrears to five points with a penalty, and then Beale, taking over the kicking duties, knocked over another three-pointer from 45 metres to put the Wallabies two behind.

Halfpenny and Beale traded penalties inside the final 14 minutes with just two points in it.

With six minutes left, Beale had the chance to kick the Wallabies to the front but he pushed his penalty attempt wide.

Then at the death Beale had another kick to win it for Australia, but he dramatically slipped on his run-up as the chance went begging.
- © AFP, 2013

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