Wallabies hold on to level Lions series

Last updated 08:36 30/06/2013
Lions celebrate
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Injured captain Sam Warburton holds the series trophy after victory at ANZ Stadium.
Adam Ashley-Cooper
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SERIES LEVEL: Wallabies fullback Adam Ashley-Cooper celebrates his match-winning try late in the second test against the British and Irish Lions.

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Robbie Deans' job is safe - for at least one more week anyway - after the Wallabies dramatically squared the series against the British and Irish Lions with an unlikely come-from-behind victory last night.

The amazing win, secured with a stunning try to Adam Ashley-Cooper in the 76th minute which was then converted by Christian Lealiifano, sets up a compelling third test decider in Sydney next Saturday night.

The Lions had seemed certain to win after Welsh sharpshooter Leigh Halfpenny pushed the visitors out to a 15-9 advantage with only 18 minutes to go.

But a brave captaincy decision by controversial Wallabies skipper James Horwill to turn down a shot at goal and set an attacking five metre scrum paid huge dividends when Ashley-Cooper slashed over for the winning touchdown with four minutes to go.

Lealiifano, who was knocked out in the opening minute of the first test, then nailed the pressure conversion.

Horwill's dramatic decision will earn him plaudits but he must escape a date with the judiciary tomorrow night with a stamping charge from the opening test still be to resolved.

The match went to the wire.  No sooner had Australia crept in front when a  series that has featured so many twists and turns that it has already entered rugby folklore ahead of the series decider in Sydney, offered another drama.

With time left on the clock, Australia conceded a penalty on halfway. Halfpenny stepped up and the Wallabies held their breath as his long-range attempt fell just metres short and Australia claimed a famous win.

The victory in front of a frenzied crowd of 56,771 at Melbourne's Etihad Stadium denied the Lions their first series victory in 16 years.

The Wallabies had to overcome a patchy performance, resolute Lions defence and a week of high drama to secure the unlikely win.

Between an arrest warrant being issued for Digby Ioane, the questionable night-owl activities of James O'Connor and Kurtley Beale, the exoneration of Horwill and then the IRB's stunning backflip on the decision, and the loss of three key back-line players, Australia went into the must-win match in Melbourne under huge pressure.

The lead changed hands four times in the opening 40 minutes with both teams missing attacking opportunities amid an intriguing and often bizarre scrum battle.

Lealiifano's first two penalty goals came from scrum infringements by struggling Lions loosehead prop Mako Vunipola who had a terrible half.  But Wallabies props Benn Robinson and Ben Alexander were also pinged by South African referee Craig Joubert, resulting in two three-pointers to Halfpenny.

The Welsh goalkicking ace kicked four from five after he blotted his near immaculate copybook early by hitting the crossbar with a 46m attempt in the fourth minute.

Australia's best try-scoring chance came when a Kurtley Beale cross-kick was taken AFL style by Israel Folau in the Lions 22 but James  O'Connor knocked on a forced flick pass with the tourists' defence stretched.

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The Wallabies conceded nine penalties in the first half as the Lions defence held tight.

Deans was visibly upset with his team's opening half performance, but things did not improve until midway through the second spell.

Conceding too many soft turnovers and with O'Connor failing to stamp his authority on the game from No. 10, the rattled Wallabies offered little to trouble the Lions' well-organised defence until the final 10m minutes.

The Lions suffered a blow at around the same time when captain Sam Warburton had to be assisted from the field with a hamstring injury that might force him out of the Sydney test.

Australia 16 (Adam Ashley-Cooper try Christian Leali'ifano con 3 pens) British and Irish Lions 15 (Leigh Halfpenny 5 pens) at Etihad Stadium. Referee: Craig Joubert. Crowd: 56,771

- Fairfax Media

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