The British and Irish Lions beat the Queensland Reds 22-12 to maintain a 100 percent record on their rugby tour to Australia as the team builds toward a Test series against the Wallabies.
The Lions, who opened their 10-game trip with lopsided wins against the Barbarians in Hong Kong and the Western Force in Perth, were outscored two tries to one by the 2011 Super Rugby champions in wet conditions last night at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium. Fly-half Owen Farrell booted 17 points to extend the tourists’ perfect goal-kicking record on Australian soil.
“It was great to get the win, that was a really tough one,” Lions captain Sam Warburton, who missed the first two games because of a knee injury, said in a televised interview. “They came flying out of the blocks. It was great for us, you don’t want to go into the end of the tour undercooked defensively. We knew the Reds in attack would offer a lot and they made it extremely tough for us.”
The combined team from the U.K. and Ireland will play another three games before facing Australia in a best-of-three contest starting June 22 in Brisbane. The third-ranked Wallabies rallied for a 2-1 series win when the teams last met in 2001.
The Lions, who two days ago called up Scotland prop Ryan Grant as cover after Cian Healy and Gethin Jenkins were ruled out of the rest of the tour because of injuries, next face Combined Country in Newcastle on June 11. Winger Tommy Bowe broke a bone in his hand last night while center Manu Tuilagi left the game with a shoulder injury. Reds players Beau Robinson and Ben Lucas were both stretchered off.
“It was a physical game out there and you saw that with a few bodies down,” Warburton added.
Simon Zebo of Ireland will join the Lions to provide injury cover for Bowe, who had surgery this morning and will be assessed over the next few days.
Grant and fellow replacement prop Alex Corbisiero will make their first appearances in two days after joining up with the squad yesterday, the Lions said. Ireland center Brian O’Driscoll will captain the midweek team against Combined Country and link up with Wales’s Jamie Roberts in midfield. They played together four times during the 2009 tour to South Africa. Scotland full-back Stuart Hogg will start at fly-half.
After scoring 128 points and 17 tries in routing the Barbarians and Force, the Lions only had about a third of the possession in the first 12 minutes against the fast-starting Reds and fell behind when winger Luke Morahan returned a kick 70 meters (76 yards) to score under the posts.
“The only way we could get an edge over them was by running them around and doing what we do best, which is running teams off their feet,” said Reds captain Quade Cooper. “We got very close to them. We’re not happy about losing but the effort that was shown was great.”
Winger Alex Cuthbert almost put the Lions ahead when he dived for the corner following a break by Bowe. The television match official ruled that the Welshman had been bundled into touch before placing the ball over the line.
Farrell kicked the Lions ahead with a 14th-minute penalty. The English fly-half’s high punt was then caught by Morahan, who fended off three tacklers, including Warburton, on a run before chipping the ball over Stuart Hogg and touching down under the posts. Cooper converted to give the Reds a 7-3 lead.
Farrell made it 7-6 and was then ruled to have knocked on by the TMO when he tried to ground the ball over the try line in the 33rd minute. At the resultant scrum, scrum-half Ben Youngs ripped the ball off Jake Schatz before diving on it over the line. The try was awarded after a review by the TMO, who was called into action again when Warburton was ruled to have been held up as he tried to finish an attack started by fellow Welshman George North.
The Reds were penalized on the stroke of halftime and Farrell was successful with his fourth kick at goal to give his team an eight-point advantage at the break.
Farrell put the Lions 19-7 ahead in the 50th minute and the Reds scored their second try 12 minutes later. Rod Davies broke down the wing and passed inside to scrum-half Nick Frisby, who scampered to the line unopposed. Mike Harris’s conversion attempt hit the post to leave the Reds seven points behind.
With the Reds needing a converted try to tie the score, Irish lock Paul O’Connell forced a ruck penalty and Farrell kicked the Lions 10 points clear with three minutes left.
“It was a tough game and the weather conditions didn’t help,” Lions head coach Warren Gatland said in a televised interview. “I thought we showed great character. They threw everything at us in the first 20 but we toughed it out. They kept digging for what was required.”