Last Tuesday, on a cold Canberra evening, the ACT Brumbies beat the British and Irish Lions 14-12. This was the first time in 16 years the Lions had lost to a provincial side, while the last time it had lost to an Australian provincial team was 1971.
A supposedly second string Lions side took on an equally depleted Brumbies in front of 26,000 plus passionate fans, but history isn’t going to show the team lists, just the result. The Lions backline featured three first-time Lions, two of whom had trained for less than two hours and were still suffering the effects of jetlag, and an infinitely more experienced colleague, Shane Williams, who had been dragged out of semi-retirement in Japan to fill a gaping hole on the wing. Even so, it must be remembered that all of the Lions squad, whether playing in the first test or not, are all internationals of some repute from the UK, and the Brumbies beat them!
Brumbies coach Jake White was ecstatic with the win, telling ABC’s Grandstand, “That’s probably one of the highlights of my career. You have to put it into perspective, there are 580 Test caps there so in a lot of ways it’s humbling to think those young boys have done that.” And what a young side the Brumbies were. Between the 23 players on the night, there were 28 Wallabies caps, 26 of which were held by winger Clyde Rathbone.
The game was a scrappy affair, with not much running rugby. In particular, the breakdown was the key area of the game. While the Lions fielded a back-row unit that would not, at the start of this trip, have looked out of place in a 6-nations test, the Brumbies went in without world-class scavengers David Pocock and George Smith and still had themselves a ball at the tackle area. Peter Kimlin, the No. 8 released from Wallaby camp for this game, was superb – “a real nuisance”, as the England lock Geoff Parling put it. So too was the open-side flanker Colby Fainga’a.
If the breakdown was the key area, midfield play was a close second. A huge defensive effort from the Brumbies pummelled the young Lions midfield, with Brumbies flyhalf Matt Toomua kicking and tackling the Lions into submission, ably helped by the centres combination of Andrew Smith and Tevita Kuridrani. Jesse Mogg at fullback also played out of his skin, setting Kuridrani up for the only try of the match and kicking in play with precision. So impressive was Mogg, he has been drafted into the Wallabies squad for the second test to be played in Melbourne.
In the face of a loss, Lions coach Warren Gatland made 4 changes in the 57th minute. These seemed to steady the sinking Lions ship, particularly Owen Farrell coming into flyhalf. Late penalties from Farrell drew the Lions within 2 points, but it wasn’t enough, the visitors going down 14-12.
Brumbies: 14 (T Kuridrani try; I Prior 0/1 con, 0/1 pen; J Mogg 3/4 pens)
Lions: 12 (S Hogg 2/4 pens; O Farrell 2/2 pens)