Five things we learned...from the third Test
July 6, 2013
A tale of two coaches - Australia boss Robbie Deans congratulates his Lions counterpart Warren Gatland © PA Photos
The British & Irish Lions claimed an historic series victory over Australia with a crushing 41-16 victory in their showdown at the ANZ Stadium in Sydney on Saturday night.
What did the Lions' thrilling' victory tell us? And what other conclusions can we draw from the Lions' latest quest for glory in the southern hemisphere?
Excellence is not an act, but a habit
No-one can argue with Lions fullback Leigh Halfpenny being named the Player of the Series. The likes of Lions winger George North and the Wallabies duo of Israel Folau and Will Genia may have produced more than their fair share of brilliance but they cannot rival the consistent excellence of Halfpenny. Under the guidance of kicking coach Neil Jenkins, a veteran of the Lions' series victory over South Africa in 1997 and one of the most prolific fly-halves of all-time, Halfpenny produced a six-week-long masterclass during which time he missed just five of 44 attempts at goal. That rich vein of form culminated with 21 points in Sydney but he is so much more than a point machine with his power, pace and distribution a huge factor in the Lions' try-fest. His dedication to his craft has earned him due reward and having also played a key role in Wales' Six Nations triumph he must be in pole position to lay claim to the IRB Player of the Year.
"You have to put your balls on the line sometimes"
Lions coach Warren Gatland took a gamble by opting to shake up his line-up for this clash with many questioning his approach - especially the decision to drop veteran centre Brian O'Driscoll. But crucially it was a calculated gamble by a coach who insisted post-game that "you have to put your ball on the line sometimes" and who was determined to be ruled by his head and not his heart. It has been a difficult few days for the Kiwi but it has paid off with the most sensational Lions performance in modern times and a place in the record books. Those foolish enough to doubt Gatland's credentials and ability to foster success clearly have short memories. The trophy cabinets at London Wasps, Waikato and Wales have all benefitted from his input in recent years but this achievement will now take pride of place on his CV. The Welsh Rugby Union must be delighted that they have their man signed up until the 2015 World Cup where yet further success would not only cement his place among the coaching greats but pave the way for a return to New Zealand. What price Warren Gatland is coaching the All Blacks when the Lions come to play in 2017?
Rugby remains delightfully unpredictable
Top flight sport remains an intriguingly unpredictable and engaging beast. Who in their right mind would have predicted such a stunning performance from the Lions and a result that defied belief and the opinion of everyone who had witnessed every other twist and turn on this tour. Just two points separated these two sides in the first Test and a solitary point in the second where by all accounts the Wallabies laid claim to the all-important momentum that we were led to believe would propel them to victory. Another tight encounter was predicted in Sydney with many fearing another rollercoaster that would go down to the final play of the game as with the previous two clashes. How wrong could we be with the opening act of the game setting the tone for a script-shredding and awe-inspiring performance from the Lions.
O Captain! My Captain!
Six different players took on the honour of leading the Lions during this tour with three - Sam Warburton, Brian O'Driscoll and Alun Wyn Jones - sharing the responsibility during the all-important Test series. That lack of a constant skipper did little to undermine the Lions' quest for a much-needed series victory and their eventual triumph served as an endorsement of coach Warren Gatland's policy of selecting the team and then the captain. The captaincy remains an important role but leadership extends beyond one man with senior players responsible for specific aspects of each team's performance on the field and conduct off it. Reliance on one player can instil fear if they are of the stature of someone like Martin Johnson, but it can be a restrictive bind if they are not. Media debate and commercial demands fuel the need for a figurehead but in truth no one should be that important. As it was, two men - Warburton and Wyn Jones - lifted the Tom Richards Cup but a few more deserved to get their hands on the trophy.
Dingo could be gone
This result could spell the end for Wallabies coach Robbie Deans. The Kiwi coach has been under increasing pressure of late with this crushing defeat - Australia have never conceded more points against the Lions - sure to prompt yet further calls for a change. Some high-profile off-field indiscipline from certain members of his squad and his refusal to pick outspoken fly-half Quade Cooper will not have helped his cause, but results will ultimately decide his fate. Deans is contracted until the end of the year and has spoken of his desire to lead them into the 2015 Rugby World Cup but his tone was a little more defeatist post game: "Those decisions will be made by others. Who knows." In perhaps his most telling comment, he appeared to distance himself from the side he has led for the last six year. "I've got no doubt the boys will regroup". With the World Cup just over two years away, the Australian Rugby Union may opt to act sooner rather than later to give a new coach - most likely former Reds boss Ewen McKenzie - the best opportunity to revitalise the Wallabies before the sport's next showpiece.
Is there a better player in the world right now than Leigh Halfpenny? © PA Photos
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.
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