Wallabies Snatch Rugby Series Momentum From Devastated Lions

Australia and the British and Irish Lions went their separate ways to prepare for the deciding rugby Test with the momentum following the Wallabies to Sydney after their one-point victory in Melbourne kept the series alive.

While Australia arrived in the harbor city yesterday buoyed by its win the previous night, the Lions are trying to regroup almost 700 miles north on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast after missing a chance to clinch their first series in 16 years.

“It’s going to take the whole squad to pull together,” Lions lock Geoff Parling told reporters. “These things are hard to take and you feel devastated, but you’ve got to get yourself back up for it again. Certainly if you can’t up for the deciding game of the tour then we’ve probably got a bit of a problem.”

The combined team led by six points with six minutes left two days ago before Adam Ashley-Cooper crashed over for the only try and his center partner Christian Leali’ifano, who also kicked three penalties, converted from an angle to put Australia one point up. Full-back Leigh Halfpenny missed a long-range penalty in the final play that would have given the Lions an unbeatable 2-0 lead heading into the third Test on July 6 at Sydney’s ANZ Stadium.

It was the second straight week that the outcome was decided by a missed goal-kick after Kurtley Beale fluffed a last-minute penalty attempt as the Lions won the June 22 opener in Brisbane 23-21. Just three points separated the teams in the first two matches.

Fitting Finale

“There’s nothing in it,” Wallabies coach Robbie Deans said yesterday at the team’s Melbourne hotel. “It’s probably fitting that we’ve got a finale in Sydney because it would have been pretty harsh for either side to have been out of the series at this point.”

The Lions, who tour the Southern Hemisphere every four years, had entered the best-of-three contest as the bookmakers’ favorite to win their first series since triumphing 2-1 in South Africa in 1997. Local oddsmaker Tabcorp Holdings Ltd. now can’t split the teams heading into the third Test, rating both a 10-11 chance to win the Tom Richards Trophy. That means a successful $11 bet would return $10 plus the original wager.

Twelve years ago in Sydney, Australia beat the Lions 29-23 to secure a 2-1 victory after also rebounding from a loss in the opener by winning in Melbourne.

Warburton Out

Lions captain Sam Warburton was today ruled out of the decider and his opposing skipper may also miss the match. A scan confirmed Warburton tore his left hamstring two days ago, the Lions said. Australia’s James Horwill faces an International Rugby Board appeal hearing tonight against his acquittal of stamping in Brisbane.

Rather than traveling with the squad yesterday to the surf beaches of Noosa as the Lions take a rest following nine games in 29 days, Warburton stayed behind in Melbourne for a scan, which showed a “significant tear.”

“I wish the team all the best and hope I can play some part in the build up this week,” Warburton said today in a statement. “I am confident that the boys can finish the job off and secure the series win.”

After having three backline players stretchered off in Brisbane, the Wallabies emerged from the second game largely unscathed, Deans said. Scrum-half Will Genia, named as the man-of-the-match at Etihad Stadium, is managing a knee injury through the series, the coach added.

Knee Niggle

“Once he gets out and gets going it’s not an issue,” Deans said of Genia, who was sidelined for six months after rupturing a knee ligament in September. “And he is managing it, which is progress for Willy, because he doesn’t like slowing up whether it be preparations or in game.”

A passive approach to the final quarter may have cost the Lions the chance to clinch the series with a match to spare, according to fly-half Jonathan Sexton. The tourists made no clean breaks in the match compared to four by Australia.

“At times it just felt like we were sort of wishing the game to finish rather than going out and going after it,” Sexton said. “We’ll have to regroup. We knew it was small margins last week, and it was the same this week. It comes down to taking your chances, and they took their chance at the end.”

Parling, who replaced Paul O’Connell in the Lions starting lineup after the Irishman fractured his arm in the first Test, said the squad was “absolutely devastated” after the loss and that it would take a big effort to bounce back in time for the winner-takes-all match in Sydney.

“I don’t feel like doing it at the moment, I feel like going away in a hole and hiding away to be honest,” Parling said on the edge of the Etihad Stadium pitch. “We’ve got to get ourselves up for it. The series is still there for the taking. We’ve got to make amends.”