Lions can wrap up series triumph by beating Australia


THE BRITISH and Irish Lions were lucky to escape Brisbane last week with a narrow 23-21 victory over Australia as Kurtley Beale was guilty of missing a last-gasp penalty that would have given the Wallabies an unlikely victory.

That was the second opportunity Beale missed at the end to steal the win from the touring party and having sliced his first effort wide, the 24-year-old did his best John Terry impression, slipping at the death amid unbearable tension.

The costly miss meant that Australia squandered 14 points from penalties overall and the Lions’ relief was clear as they trudged off. They were lucky and they knew it.

Even so, Warren Gatland’s men head to Melbourne on the verge of a first series win in 16 years and are once again warm favourites to oblige tomorrow morning. The 4/7 is fair, on balance, but it’s clear the Lions will need to better last week’s showing to land the win with a -4 handicap at evens with Coral.

There are certainly grounds for belief that the side will improve. They avoided a midweek mishap with an impressive 35-0 rout of Melbourne Rebels. The scrum was dominant in that five-try victory and Gatland has responded to some big performances by making a handful of changes for the second Test.

Ben Youngs, who made a serious impact coming on in the last quarter, replaces Mike Phillips at scrum-half and wing Tommy Bowe takes over from Alex Cuthbert with flanker Dan Lydiate coming in and Tom Croft dropping to the bench. Paul O’Connell and Alex Corbisiero are injured so Geoff Parling and Mako Vunipola step in.

Australia had a number of players suffer nasty injuries last week with Pat McCabe subsequently ruled out for the year after his neck problems resurfaced. But Christian Leali’ifano, who lasted just 52 seconds on his debut, has recovered from concussion and will start. That’s a big boost as Beale and James O’Connor clearly struggled taking on his kicking duties.

The Wallabies will be aiming to repeat their victory in the second Test of the 2001 Lions tour when they lost the opener in Brisbane but went on to win the series. But it’s clear this isn’t a vintage Aussie team and, while the Lions hardly roared last week, I’m expecting much better tomorrow.

We made a packet selling Australia’s performance with Sporting Index last week and I cannot resist selling the Wallabies again at 48 with the spread betting firm.

Gatland has rung the changes and will be out to get the job done ahead of the final fixture in Sydney. A repeat of the defensive discipline they showed against the Rebels would make them very hard to beat and as long as they can resist giving away unnecessary penalties, the Lions look in good shape to return home winners.

■ Pointers…
Lions with a -4 handicap at evens with Coral
Sell Australia performance at 48 with Sporting Index