RUGBY UNION

Lucky Lions lap up 23-21 victory over Wallabies in first test

While tourists lap up victory in opening test, injury-ravaged Wallabies are left licking their wounds ... and ruing late penalty miss by Beale

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 June, 2013, 4:19am

Warren Gatland's initial feeling when the whistle blew on the British & Irish Lions' 23-21 victory over Australia yesterday might have been one of relief, but it was quickly replaced by a quiet sense of satisfaction.

Two late penalty attempts from Kurtley Beale, including a fluffed kick in the final seconds, kept the 52,500 crowd on tenterhooks to the very end, but the Lions emerged with a 1-0 advantage in the three-test series and perhaps evidence that they had a little bit of luck on their side.

In what was always going to be a tight three-match contest, such tiny shifts in fortune could help the tourists to a first series win since 1997.

In his duties as coach of Wales, Gatland has become all too familiar with losing to Australia on the last kick of the game and he was clearly delighted to finally finish up a winner.

"My first initial reaction was, 'This is not going to happen again' after the last three times in the last couple of minutes, but they only kick those goals against Wales," he said with a chuckle.

"It was a relief, but we deserved to win that game. I thought we went out there and tried to play a bit of rugby and we played a little too much rugby in the first half."

Gatland's satisfaction at emerging a winner was not matched by an appreciation of the refereeing of New Zealand's Chris Pollock.

Despite saying he would take the decisions that went against the Lions "on the chin", he then listed in full where he thought they were.

His difference with Pollock's interpretation of the laws started with Irish centre Brian O'Driscoll being penalised twice in the first six minutes.

"I thought it was tough in the breakdown," he said. "Brian O'Driscoll was penalised twice and he was clearly on his feet early in the first half and Brian told me that we were afraid to go to the breakdown and compete because he felt there was a yellow card situation.

"You look at all those situations and you think there are a few chances we missed out on. The breakdown was hotly contested by both teams.

"I think that referees come in from provincial or Super Rugby there is a huge step up in intensity and having to make decisions."

After two weeks of niggly injuries, particularly to his backline, Gatland was also a little fortunate to be able to report just one slight injury problem after such a fierce contest - a tight calf for prop Alex Corbisiero.

While Gatland was counting his lucky stars, his opposite number Robbie Deans was ruing the one that got away.

Deans has always prided himself on the way his sides have "got over the line" against the odds but losing his nominated placekicker, Christian Lealiifano, in the first minute and two other backs - Berrick Barnes and Pat McCabe - to injury left his side with just too much of a mountain to climb.

"It was a courageous performance that would stack up alongside any but it was disappointing not to get the reward," said the New Zealander. One bright shining light going into the second test next weekend was the two-try performance of debutant winger Israel Folau, who Deans admitted would probably get a run-out in Melbourne.

"He didn't have much ball there at all in the first half," he said. "We showed when we did have possession that how effective he could be, that would aid our cause next week."

Gatland said the Lions would not be taking it for granted that the Wallabies would be weaker because of the injuries, even suggesting mischievously that exiled flyhalf Quade Cooper might get a look in.

Gatland was also aware that his 2001 predecessor Graham Henry was sitting pretty after a first test victory 12 years ago, only for Australia to come back and win the series.

"We could have lost tonight, but it means no matter what happens you go to the last day you're still in the series," he said. "And we've got an opportunity to wrap it up next week."