A rock-solid ACT Brumbies, shorn of the heart of their first-choice team, soaked up enormous pressure to secure a famous 14-12 victory over a stuttering British and Irish Lions side in Canberra yesterday to hand the tourists their first defeat.
Center Tevita Kuridrani scored the match’s sole try in the first half and Jesse Mogg slotted three penalties for the hosts, who held on grimly in a frenetic finish to delight more than 21,000 fans at Canberra Stadium.
While the Brumbies celebrated a famous victory over what was effectively a Lions second team, the tourists’ management will have to act quickly to lift spirits ahead of Saturday’s first Test against Australia in Brisbane.
With a hastily-assembled backline stitched together by flown-in replacements, the Lions trailed 8-3 at the break after putting in their worst first half of the tour with a raft of botched lineouts and handling errors.
Replacement flyhalf Owen Farrell kicked the tourists to within two points with nine minutes to play, but the Lions slumped to their first non-Test tour match defeat since being beaten by the New Zealand Maori in 2005.
“Incredible for the team, thanks for the support guys,” Brumbies skipper Peter Kimlin told the roaring home crowd. “We definitely came into the game with a clear game plan. We spoke about the work rate around the field and I think that helped today.”
The Brumbies were switched on from the start and could have doubled their score, but for a lack of polish when finishing off moves and some errant kicking.
Former Wales winger Shane Williams, making a one-match cameo after flying in from Japan, was denied a dream opening try in the third minute when he was dragged into touch just shy of the line.
The Brumbies hit back immediately through center Kuridrani, who danced around debutant winger Christian Wade and fullback Rob Kearney on the left wing to score two minutes later.
Stunned, the Lions proceeded to bungle a succession of lineouts, with captain Rory Best’s throwing regularly off-beam, and flyhalf Stuart Hogg slammed a gettable penalty into the post at the end of the opening quarter.
Emboldened by the tourists’ struggles and a baying home crowd, and fired by a line-break from Kuridrani, the Brumbies pushed to the line on the right wing, but were let down when rising flanker Colby Faingaa failed to offload to Henry Speight, who had a clear run at the line.
Prior, who missed his opening two shots at goal, handed the kicking duties to Mogg, who put the Brumbies up 8-0 with a penalty.
Hogg got the tourists on the scoreboard with a penalty, but they trudged off the sodden field after playing their worst half of the tour.
The malaise was to continue after the break, with ill-discipline creeping into their game.
Mogg slotted two further penalties to put the Brumbies up 14-3, the second a gift after frustrated Scot Ryan Grant manhandled fellow prop Scott Sio’s head.
Hogg trimmed the deficit, but then hit a post again with another before Lions coach Warren Gatland lost patience and unleashed a rash of substitutions.
With reserve scrumhalf Conor Murray and Farrell directing traffic, the Lions played with renewed purpose and quickly capitalized, with two Farrell penalties reducing the lead to two points with nine minutes to go.
However, the Brumbies showed huge grit to dig in and they soaked up the final minutes with a determined pick-and-go defense.