Halfpenny inspires Lions to series win

CHRIS BARCLAY
Last updated 23:55 06/07/2013
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Injured captain Sam Warburton holds the series trophy after victory at ANZ Stadium.

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At long last, a definitive outcome before the final play of a emotionally taut test between the Wallabies and British and Irish Lions.

For the first time since the first nerve-jangling instalment in Brisbane, the result of the decider did not hinge on a failed penalty kick after the siren with the Lions ending three series' of torment - including a dramatic loss to the Wallabies here in 2001 - with an emphatic 41-16 triumph at ANZ Stadium in Sydney tonight.

While the polarising Waikato-turned-Wales coach Warren Gatland can feel vindicated in including 10 of his Six Nations-winning squad in a starting line-up missing Irish legend Brian O'Driscoll, fellow former All Black Robbie Deans future with the Wallabies is again in jeopardy.

A Lions series victory - their first since South Africa in 1997 - will not keep the wolves at bay after Gatland's squad amassed the highest points haul in their 125-year history to regain to Tom Richards Cup.

The pragmatic Cantabrian has never been accepted by the Australian rugby community since he became the Wallabies first foreign head coach in 2008 and despite ARU chief executive Bill Pulver reiterating Deans' survival did not hinge on retaining the Tom Richards Cup, the organisation has already explored the availability of Jake White and Ewen McKenzie with the Reds and Brumbies respectively.

Deans' 74-test tenure - a record for a Wallabies coach - has been dogged by inconsistency, controversial selections, off-field ill-discipline and a chronic inability to beat the All Blacks.

Now the Wales-centric Lions, a team the Wallabies had beaten in 11 of their last 12 meetings, jeopardises the extension of his contract at the end of this season.

The Lions made a stunning start when Will Genia knocked on the kick-off and after a free kick from the resulting scrum prop Alex Corbisiero rolled over by the uprights - and the English loosehead's influence did not stop there.

Reinstated to the front row after missing the second test through injury, Corbisiero helped the Lions assert and maintain scrum superiority in the opening quarter - personally terrorising Ben Alexander.

The Wallabies tighthead was sinbinned by French referee Romain Poite moments after issuing a warning to captain James Horwill, enabling Leigh Halfpenny to nail his third scrum-related three-pointer during arguably the worst half hour of Deans tenure.

Genia's bad hands triggered a disastrous chain of events for the Wallabies with recalled loose forward legend George Smith's comeback looked over after an accidental head clash with Lions hooker Richard Hibbard in the fourth minute.

Smith returned to another heroes welcome after passing a concussion test but in the 27th minute, the home fans were muted as Israel Folau limped off with a hamstring injury - handing Jesse Mogg a test debut.

Alexander also remained on the bench once his 10-minute penalty elapsed leaving Sekope Kepu to help solidify the Wallabies eight.

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Crucially the reconfigured scrum held up 5m out after the halftime siren, establishing the platform for James O'Connor - a controversial selection at pivot - to jink past opposite Jonathon Sexton and underpin cap a bold revival.

The Lions' lead was trimmed to 19-10 at the break and when Leali'ifano goaled two penalties within five minutes of the resumption.

However, the Wallabies scrum woes re-emerged to ease the Lions anxiety as man of the match Halfpenny continued to assemble his 21-point tally.

The Welsh fullback also played a part in the 56th minute try to Jonathon Sexton by providing the final transfer although it was Jonathan Davies - an unpopular selection in Ireland ahead of O'Driscoll - who derived the greatest pleasure by creating the line break.

Halfpenny's positional play was also top notch eight minutes later when he fielded a Genia clearance, scythed between the halfback and Joe Tomane to give George North an unchecked stroll to the line.

"Bread of Heaven" reverberated among the 83,702 crowd on cue and there was another unpalatable moment to digest when Jamie Roberts was put through a hole by replacement halfback Connor Murray with 11 minutes to play.

The red tide rolled on in waves, those in gold streamed to the exits.

British and Irish Lions 41 (Alex Corbisiero, George North, Jamie Roberts, Jonathan Sexton tries Leigh Halfpenny 3 cons 5 pens) Australia 16 (James O'Connor try Christian Leali'ifano con 3 pens) at ANZ Stadium. Referee: Romain Poite. Crowd: 83,702

- Fairfax Media

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