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British & Irish Lions tour 2013


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Lions 2013: Brisbane braced for another Australia v Lions epic


Saturday 22 June: First Test: Lions v Australia - Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane. Kick-off: 1100 BST (2000 local)

Saturday 29 June: Second Test: Lions v Australia - Etihad Stadium, Melbourne. Kick-off: 1100 BST (2000 local)

Saturday 6 July: Third Test: Lions v Australia - ANZ Stadium, Sydney. Kick-off: 1100 BST (2000 local)


No-one, it seems, is in any doubt about the scale of what is about to unfold in Brisbane on Saturday. The hype around the first Test of a British and Irish Lions series can make mature rugby men voice grand pronouncements, and the participants wide-eyed with anticipation.


"It is unique, not just in rugby. It is unique in world sport," said Australia coach Robbie Deans. "It's going to be an epic occasion."


Sam Warburton, preparing to lead the Lions into action, observed: "I have led Wales out in some pretty big games, but this will blow it out of the water."


By 20:00 local time (11:00 BST), with kick-off approaching, the 52,500-capacity Suncorp Stadium will be jumping, swirling with emotion and expectation that has been building for 12 years. That is how long it has been since the last Lions Test in Australia, and the window of opportunity is something players, coaches, supporters, hoteliers and publicans are keenly aware of.


It would be an exaggeration to say the country is gripped by Lions fever. At the start of the week, media coverage was still almost an afterthought following rugby league, Aussie Rules football, cricket, the football Socceroos, golf and even the NBA finals.


It is only in the last 48 hours that the traditional fervour accompanying a Lions tour has been apparent, with the arrival in Brisbane of an estimated 25,000-30,000 travelling supporters. The covered, open-air bars of the city's Queen Street mall are doing brisk business. There are red Lions jerseys and jackets everywhere, and plenty of Welsh accents.


The beauty of Lions tours is their rarity. They only arrive every four years, with New Zealand and South Africa their other destinations. And the allure of witnessing some of the greatest moments the sport has to offer is compelling, despite the cost.


With the price of a schooner (less than a pint) of beer around $A8 (£4.70), Australia is now one of the most expensive countries in the world. City centre hotels were charging between £400 and £600 a night for this weekend. Platinum tickets for the Tests cost A$295 (£175) each. Those scrambling for them received a last-minute boost on Friday when officials released a final batch of 500 for sale.


One couple, Judith and Graham from Newport, South Wales, spent two years - and £30,000 - planning and saving to follow the tour from Perth, the first match in Australia, to the finale in Sydney. They are not alone.




This is their fifth Lions tour. On their first, also the first of rugby's professional era in 1997, they were among around 5,000 Lions fans present when the tourists won the series in Durban.


By the time of the next tour, of Australia in 2001, at least five times that amount were thought to be at The Gabba in Brisbane for the Lions' mesmerising first-Test victory. The impact of this vast army of travelling fans is huge, not just on the local economy, but the players too.


"When we ran out it felt as though the ground was three-quarters red," recalled Brian O'Driscoll, the day before he embarks on a fourth Lions series in the same city where he scored one of the great tries in Lions history 12 years ago.


"It gives you an extra pep in your step and gives you added incentive, providing you with that inspiration you need to play the game of your life."


Wallabies coach Deans has brought in former players involved in the 2001 series to forewarn the current side of what to expect. "The passion that came out was at another level," he noted. "The fact that there were so many away supporters, with a clear delineation, made it so special."


The hosts are trying to avoid a repeat on Saturday. The Australian Rugby Union will be handing out 15,000 gold safari hats to Wallaby fans to combat the anticipated sea of red. The same will happen in Melbourne and Sydney for the second and third Tests.


To ramp up the patriotic fervour another notch, 'rock legend' Colin Hay, the frontman of the group Men At Work, will perform their iconic hit (I Come From a Land) Down Under before kick-off as part of the 'Welcome to Australia' theme to the pre-match entertainment.


Those lucky enough to be present are likely to see a thrilling spectacle. Although steady rain hit Brisbane on Friday, conditions for the match should be perfect, with the forecast for Saturday dry and warm.


The Wallabies have a formidable record in Brisbane, having lost only two of the 17 Tests they have played in the city since the last Lions tour in 2001. They are undefeated in their last six Tests in the city.


But then the Lions also have fond memories of the Queensland capital.


'The Battle of Ballymore' - the brutal second Test in 1989 - and the brilliance of 'Waltzing O'Driscoll' at The Gabba in 2001 are both ingrained in Lions folklore.


They come into this series with momentum, having won the two biggest games leading up to the Test series against Queensland Reds and New South Wales Waratahs, the latter in some style.


The midweek defeat by ACT Brumbies was a jolt to the squad, but only one of the players who started that game - Ben Youngs - is in the Lions' match-day squad on Saturday.


Several players and coaches have made the observation that this Lions party is stronger than the one that came agonisingly close to a series victory in South Africa four years ago.


The pool of talent is deeper, and there is "savage competition" - in the words of Irish forward Paul Connell - for places. They are fitter, faster and more powerful than probably any previous Lions squad, and well drilled by Warren Gatland and his fellow coaches.


"There is almost like an arrogance running off them where they believe they can win this series," observed Shane Williams after his dramatic call-up from international retirement to join the squad for the Brumbies game. "That's great to have. Sometimes these tours are won mentally rather than physically and they are in a strong mental place at the moment."


The Wallabies are more of an unknown quantity, having spent three weeks in camp together rather than play any warm-up matches.


They have three players making Test debuts, and several others coming into it with little game time under their belts. But their ingenuity and resourcefulness always make them dangerous opponents, whatever the circumstances.


The Lions start marginal favourites, but a victorious Lions tour is a precious and increasingly rare thing. There have only been four in the 17 full series since the Second World War.


The successful teams of 1971, 1974, 1989 and 1997 are legends of the game. The current crop - especially icons like Irish duo O'Driscoll and O'Connell - are desperate to join them.


It is not just the Lions who feel this way. Their opponents do too. Wallabies full-back Berrick Barnes said this week "there's more excitement for this series than there was for the World Cup".


In case the hyperbole goes too far off the scale, Barnes could at least bring a little perspective to a game in which both sets of players will be under inordinate pressure to perform. "There's a lot riding on it but we're not trying to cure cancer," he said. "It's a game of footy that will be great to be involved in."


Or as O'Driscoll put it: "It's just another rugby match. But it's a big rugby match."


Whatever the result, Brisbane will be painted red.





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Lions 2013: Australia 21-23 British and Irish Lions


The British and Irish Lions took a major step towards a first series victory in 16 years with a pulsating opening Test win over Australia in Brisbane.


A dramatic conclusion to a compelling encounter saw Wallabies replacement Kurtley Beale miss a penalty with the last kick of the game that would have snatched victory.


The Lions led 13-12 at half-time via George North's stunning try and two Leigh Halfpenny penalties after a brace of tries for Australia wing debutant Israel Folau.


Alex Cuthbert's try stretched the Lions's lead, but two penalties from Beale brought the hosts to within two points.


He had two opportunities to steal victory, but sliced the first wide with five minutes left and then slipped as he connected with his last-minute effort amid unbearable tension.


That meant 14 points had gone begging in missed kicks for Australia, with James O'Connor also failing with two penalties and a conversion.


The Lions's relief at their good fortune was palpable, but they will head to Melbourne for the next instalment mindful that the team which won the first Test in each of the last two series between the sides, in 1989 and 2001, ended up losing it.


The match had barely started when Wallabies centre Christian Leali'ifano got his head in the wrong position trying to tackle Jonathan Davies and appeared to knock himself out.


Halfpenny immediately alerted referee Chris Pollock and the centre was taken off on a cart only 52 seconds into his debut.


A second player, full-back Berrick Barnes, departed in the same fashion two minutes before half-time after smashing into a retreating Folau.


The ex-rugby league international and Aussie Rules footballer had already marked his own debut in stunning style by then, however.


After O'Connor had missed two early shots at goal as the Lions struggled to come to terms with Pollock's interpretation at the breakdown, Folau made an explosive entry to Test rugby in the 13th minute.


The Lions had spent several minutes hammering away at the Wallabies defence before the hosts won a penalty on their own 22.


The ever-dangerous Will Genia took a quick tap and raced away to halfway, waited for Halfpenny to commit himself before sending a delicate chip into the path of Folau, who picked up and sprinted over. This time O'Connor couldn't miss from in front of the posts.


The momentum was all with the hosts, Cuthbert fumbling a Genia box-kick under no pressure, Genia sending prop Benn Robinson through a gap.


But after strong charges from Jamie Heaslip and Mike Phillips, Wallabies captain James Horwill was pinged for coming in at the side and Halfpenny made it 7-3 with a confident swing of his right boot.


North then made his own explosive entrance to this series. Collecting a Barnes clearance 10m inside his own half, the giant Welsh wing eluded Pat McCabe's initial attempted tackle and then scorched away in an arcing run to the left corner, leaving O'Connor in his wake in a manner reminiscent of the way his predecessor in the Lions number 11 shirt, Jason Robinson, undid Chris Latham 12 years ago.


Halfpenny nailed the touchline conversion and minutes later North was over in at the left corner again, barging through Genia and Folau's tackles to dot down. But television match official Vinny Munro ruled North's left elbow was fractionally in touch as he grounded the ball.


But Pollock had already blown for offside in the build-up and Halfpenny stretched the Lions's lead.


Australia hit back immediately when the supremely athletic Folau was released into space, stepping inside Sexton and beating Halfpenny to score his second.


But O'Connor's third miss of the night from the tee meant the Lions remained in front.


Beale, on for the unfortunate Barnes, received an immediate welcome from Tom Croft on the charge - after a pick-up and break from the impressive Alex Corbisiero - as the Lions threatened again.


Australia cynically went off their feet to concede a penalty rather than seven points, but this time Halfpenny's radar failed him for only the second time in 27 shots at goal on tour.


When McCabe became the third Wallaby to be taken off on a stretcher within six minutes of the resumption, the hosts were forced to bring on flanker Liam Gill at centre.


Their problems deepened when Cuthbert, coming in off his right wing, hit a perfect angle onto Sexton's pass and powered his way over, Halfpenny's conversion taking the Lions 20-12 clear.


O'Connor's penalty reduced the deficit, but the Lions might have added to their tally after a thrilling break-out, only for referee Pollock to adjudge O'Driscoll's delicate offload marginally forward.


Instead Beale landed a long-range penalty to cut the Lions's lead to two, Halfpenny responded in kind, before Beale again made it a two-point game with 12 minutes left after his own thrilling counter-attack had forced the Lions to infringe in their own 22.


The Lions wasted a golden opportunity when they lost a scrum on their own put-in five metres from the Australia line. But Beale, returning to action after receiving counselling for alcohol-related issues, could not make them pay.



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Australia beat British & Irish Lions 16-15 in second Test


The British and Irish Lions face a final-Test decider in Sydney next Saturday after Australia hit back to win a desperately fraught second Test in Melbourne.


For the second week in a row the outcome hinged on the final kick, with Lions full-back Leigh Halfpenny falling short with a penalty from halfway.


The Welshman's five penalties had seen the Lions lead 15-9 until five minutes from time.


But Wallabies centre Adam Ashley-Cooper crashed over for the only try, and Christian Leali'ifano held his nerve to land the conversion.


It was another riveting conclusion to a tourniquet-tight contest, but the Lions' hopes of a first series win in 16 years now hang in the balance.


Australia showed tremendous courage to pull the game out of the fire, and it is they rather than the Lions who will now head to Sydney with momentum.


The Lions, who saw captain Sam Warburton hobble off with 13 minutes left, defended heroically at times, but must now regroup for a final throw of the dice in Sydney.


Four first-half penalties from Halfpenny, to three from Leali'ifano, nudged the Lions into a 12-9 interval lead in front of a record Etihad Stadium crowd of 56,771.


Brian O'Driscoll's tackle on Ashley-Cooper in midfield forced the Wallabies to concede the first of eight first-half penalties.


Halfpenny's 48-metre kick missed by the narrowest of margins, coming back off the cross-bar, but thereafter the Welshman was in his usual immaculate form.


Penalties in the ninth, 27th, 33rd and 40th minutes saw the Lions edge a cagey first half in which neither side was able to exercise authority for any extended period.


The Lions appeared to have the edge at the breakdown, Australia conceding four penalties inside the opening eight minutes to earn an early warning from referee Craig Joubert.


Halfpenny landed his first kick after the Lions drove a line-out and the Wallabies took down the maul.


But after a composed start, errors starting to creep into the tourists' game, with the scrum a cause for concern.


Joubert awarded a free-kick against scrum-half Ben Youngs for not getting the ball in quickly enough, before loose-head Mako Vunipola was twice penalised for collapsing.


Leali'ifano, knocked out in the first minute in Brisbane but fit to take over the kicking duties this week, landed both shots at goal to edge the hosts in front.


A knock-on as he over-stretched for a pass completed a miserable 10 minutes for Vunipola, but he responded well. First, opposite number Ben Alexander was penalised for incorrect binding, then the Lions drove the Wallabies backwards at the next scrum to earn another.


Halfpenny landed two confident blows with the boot to nudge the Lions back in front.


Leali'ifano levelled matters again when Dan Lydiate fell offside trying to stem a dangerous Wallabies counter-attack. But the Lions twice benefited from hoisting up high kicks as the interval approached, the second falling to George North, with Jonny Sexton maintaining the momentum through a half-break.


When Ben Mowen was penalised at the ensuing breakdown, Halfpenny's fourth penalty gave the Lions a slender half-time lead.


Australia threw everything at the Lions in a tense and scoreless third quarter, but their defence - led by the obdurate Lydiate - initially held firm.


There were nervous moments aplenty and further frustrations at the scrum. The Lions lost one against the head after Youngs delayed the put-in, while O'Driscoll's pass straight to Folau allowed Australia to counter dangerously, before the Irish centre was penalised for hands in a ruck.


The Lions sent on Conor Murray for Youngs at scrum-half, and the Irishman immediately helped win a relieving penalty over the ball as Australia built up a head of steam.


North had precious few opportunities with ball in hand, but he caught a pass and proceeded to pick up Folau and drive him backwards to galvanise his side.


When they sent the Wallabies back-pedalling again at the next scrum, Halfpenny's fifth penalty in the 63rd minute stretched the lead to six points for the first time.


The strains of "Swing Low, Swing Chariot" - a demonstration of four-nation unity among the legions of red - echoed around the cavernous arena, but Australia were not done yet.


The dangerous Folau, stepping off his wing, was twice denied before the pressure finally told with five minutes left, O'Connor sending Ashley-Cooper crashing over.


Leali'ifano nailed the conversion, but the Lions still had a line-out to save themselves with two minutes left. However, replacement hooker Richard Hibbard could not find his target.


With time up on the stadium clock, the Lions ran a penalty from their own half and got to halfway, where Australia conceded a penalty. But Halfpenny's kick fell agonisingly short.



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have the Lions missed their chance to be legends?


There goes the knees-up in Noosa then.


With five minutes to go of this second Test cliff-hanger, it was all going to plan. The series in the bag, the amber nectar on ice, an enticing few days beckoning the British and Irish Lions at the resort on Queensland's Sunshine Coast where they head on Sunday.


A chance to chill out and celebrate a historic victory, do a bit of surfing and then contemplate a dead-rubber third Test in Sydney. If only. Adam Ashley-Cooper's try, Christian Leali'ifano's nerveless conversion, and Leigh Halfpenny's lack of length on his last-minute long-range penalty changed all that.


Yes, the Lions will still have some down time over the next 48 hours, as they try to recuperate from the physical and mental strain of another tumultuous Test. But the mood now will be very different. A chance to tie up the series, to make history and join the legends, has slipped through their fingers.


Will they get a better one? Australia, so resilient and resourceful in desperation, conjured up a decisive winning play that ultimately proved beyond the Lions. The hosts head to Sydney for a winner-takes-all duel in buoyant mood, with confidence restored, and ambition renewed.


For neutrals, it is the perfect scenario, but it was one the Lions - for all their post-match positivity - were desperate to avoid. On Thursday Warren Gatland said it was the "last thing" he wanted to be thinking about.


Two days later, he was insisting there would be no problem lifting his players for the mother of all finales at the former Olympic Stadium where the last series was also memorably decided 12 years ago. "I don't think it is going to be tough at all," said the head coach. "They have got a couple of days off to recuperate and when they get back on the training field they will realise how close we came to holding Australia out and winning that. Next week is another massive opportunity. It just shows how exciting this series is."


Even if Gatland is adamant each Lions series is a separate entity, unaffected by what has gone before, the history of the last two between the sides, in 1989 and 2001, tells us that the one who wins the second Test goes on to win the series. It was hard not to detect an echo of the 2001 denouement when Liam Gill jumped in front of Tom Croft to steal Richard Hibbard's late line-out throw, as the Lions tried to rescue the game. Martin Johnson must have winced. Justin Harrison would have approved.


While Gatland and his perennially optimistic captain Sam Warburton were right to point out the prize is still there to be seized, it is difficult to avoid the feeling the momentum now lies with the Wallabies. The hosts didn't play particularly well themselves and yet - as captain James Horwill put it - still "found a way to win".


Horwill likened next Saturday's encounter to a Grand Final, Warburton a "cup final". But neither leader is guaranteed to be involved. The Australian lock faces an appeal hearing on Monday initiated by the International Rugby Board into the original decision to clear him of stamping on Lions lock Alun Wyn Jones in the first Test.


Warburton faces a worrying 48 hours - and a couple of sleep-deprived nights icing his injured hamstring every two hours - before knowing if he will be fit to lead the side. His absence would be another blow given his performance on Saturday, which Gatland labelled "brilliant", particularly at the breakdown where the Lions prospered until the final quarter.


But while the line-out again functioned well until that late lapse, the scrum continued to frustrate. The Lions will be hoping loose-head prop Alex Corbisiero has recovered from the calf strain that ruled him out in Melbourne.


Mako Vunipola has had a superb tour, topped the tackle count here with 15 and carried more ball than any other Lions forward. But he quickly appears to have gained a reputation as a technically deficient scrummager.


The 22-year-old came back well after twice being penalised for collapsing in a nightmare 10-minute spell, but may revert to his impact role off the bench.


The Lions also improved in the scrum with the introduction of Richard Hibbard at hooker. The Welshman may also be considered for a start next week. That will not be the only selection dilemma. The Lions rarely threatened to produce a try in a game dominated by defences, and failed to register a single line break.


Last week fly-half Jonny Sexton mixed up his game with several chips over the first line of Australian defence. Those were absent from his repertoire in Melbourne, although the Lions did gain some joy from their kick-chase game, with several high bombs falling their way.


But Sexton - from two half-breaks - made by far the most metres (41) in attack (the next highest was Sean O'Brien with 17m, and he was only on for the last 16 minutes), and there is clearly a need for greater ball-carrying punch.


There will be a strong temptation to bring either Manu Tuilagi or Jamie Roberts - if he is fit enough - into the midfield to provide a more abrasive gainline presence. The easy option may be to drop Jonathan Davies, but the Welshman has been the form centre of the tour. His more illustrious partner Brian O'Driscoll was heroic in defence, completing all 14 tackles, but struggled to unlock the Wallabies defence, with one pass straight to the waiting Israel Folau.


With scrum-half Ben Youngs delaying his feeds at scrum-time and not offering a running threat to distract the Australian back row, Mike Phillips may also be recalled if his knee is sufficiently rested.


The removal of number eight Jamie Heaslip early in the final quarter may be a source of hope for Toby Faletau, who tends to thrive in more claustrophobic conditions. Ian Evans is also an option in the second row, although Geoff Parling didn't miss one of his 14 tackles and ran an almost faultless line-out until the last knockings.


When Halfpenny took the Lions 15-9 clear with his fifth penalty with 17 minutes left, they appeared too ready to sit on the lead, and defend what they had.


In fairness the wall of red shirts had shown little sign of yielding, but with Warburton's departure in the 67th minute, the Wallabies were able to generate quicker ball at the breakdown. Scrum-half Will Genia probed with greater freedom, and wing Israel Folau, relatively well shackled until that point, was brought more into the game.


Ashley-Cooper's try was deserved reward for their perseverance, but even in injury-time the Lions could have snatched victory. To blame Halfpenny for their failure to seal the deal would be harsh in the extreme. His two misses from seven attempts were both at the limit of his range.


Given the chance to win the series in similar fashion next week, you wouldn't bet against the Welsh full-back. But as Horwill declared, "all bets are off" now. "Both teams are evenly matched, we have been feeling each other out," he added. "The game of chess will continue."


The Lions had the Wallabies in check. And they may yet be leaving Australia as Test series winners. If so, they will have done it the hard way.



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Lions 2013: Tourists set for Australia showdown




Lions 2013: Tourists set for Australia showdown


The British and Irish Lions meet Australia on Saturday in the deciding Test knowing victory will end their 16-year wait for a series win.


More than 30,000 fans have travelled to Sydney to cheer on the visitors. Four-time former Lions head coach Sir Ian McGeechan has described the meeting at ANZ Stadium as the Lions' "biggest match" in nearly two decades.


Build-up to the game has been dominated by head coach Warren Gatland's call to drop veteran centre Brian O'Driscoll. After spending part of the week relaxing in the warmer climes of Noosa in Queensland, the Lions will take to the field with the temperature set at a milder 15C.


The Test series is currently tied at one apiece after the hosts replied with a 16-15 second Test victory following the Lions' 23-21 win in the opener. O'Driscoll had been favourite to be named captain in the absence of Sam Warburton after the flanker picked up a hamstring injury in the defeat at Melbourne's Etihad Stadium.


Instead, the 34-year-old was one of six players to make way as Gatland looked to prevent a repeat of the toothless display in which his side failed to make a single line break last weekend. "When I go back to the UK and say 'Did I make the decision because I believed it was right, or did I make it because it was the right political decision?', I can put my hand on my heart and say I think it is the right rugby decision," Gatland said.


In O'Driscoll's absence, Jamie Roberts - one of a record-equalling 10 Welshmen selected - will be reunited with international team-mate Jonathan Davies in the centres after he recovered from the hamstring injury that kept him out of the first two Tests.


For Australia, head coach Robbie Deans has made only one change by bringing in flanker George Smith for his 111th international appearance.

The 32-year-old - who made his last Test appearance in 2009 and retired from international rugby the following year - played in the 2001 Sydney meeting between the sides.


He will be hoping for history to repeat itself, as 12 years ago, the Aussies recovered from an opening Test loss to claim their first ever series win over the Lions with a thrilling 29-23 final victory at the same ground - then called Stadium Australia. "To have achieved what George has throughout his career, and return to play at the highest level, after such a long break, is a testament to the quality of the man," Deans said.


The Lions last won a Test series in 1997, when they triumphed 2-1 in South Africa.



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British and Irish Lions thrash Australia to seal series win


The British and Irish Lions claimed a first series victory in 16 years with a superb third Test win over Australia.


The Lions built up a 19-3 lead as Alex Corbisiero touched down before Leigh Halfpenny kicked four penalties.


A James O'Connor try and Christian Lealiifano conversion reduced the deficit before Lealiifano kicked two penalties to make it 16-19.


But the Lions took control as tries from Jonathan Sexton, George North and Jamie Roberts helped seal victory.



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