Saints duo shine as Lions clinch series win

SAINTSMEN - Alex Corbisiero celebrates with George North after the Wales wing scores for the Lions
SAINTSMEN - Alex Corbisiero celebrates with George North after the Wales wing scores for the Lions

Saints duo Alex Corbisiero and George North were in superb form as they propelled the Lions to a Test series win in Australia.

Both players, who have moved to Franklin’s Gardens this summer, scored tries as Warren Gatland’s men grabbed a stunning 41-16 win against the Wallabies.

Corbisiero got the ball rolling as he darted over from a good scrum, while North flew over during the second half to take his tally of tour tries to a fantastic four.

Further points came from Jonny Sexton and Jamie Roberts tries and the boot of Leigh Halfpenny, who kicked 21 points and was deservedly named man of the series.

Australia tried to mount a response after falling 19-3 behind, with James O’Connor jinking his way over the line and Christian Leali’ifano kicking well.

But though they got back to within three points just after the break, they couldn’t keep up the pace.

For the Lions it was a first series win since 1997 and for Saints fans it was an exciting glimpse of the future.

Corbisiero wreaked havoc in the scrum, forcing Wallabies tighthead Ben Alexander to offend on a regular basis, eventually being sent to the sin bin.

While North was typically lively and lit up the game not only with his try, but with another great hit on Israel Folau, who will be haunted by memories of the Welshman.

Lions boss Gatland had made some big selection calls going into the game, with the main one seeing legendary centre Brian O’Driscoll left out of the matchday squad.

But the decisions were immediately vindicated as Corbisiero crossed the whitewash inside the first couple of minutes.

Will Genia knocked on Sexton’s kick-off, handing the Lions a scrum, and after wing Tommy Bowe was tackled short skipper Alun-Wyn Jones charged to within inches of Australia’s line.

And with the Wallabies defence spread-eagled, Corbisiero ploughed over from close range for a try that Halfpenny converted.

Flanker George Smith, recalled by Wallabies coach Robbie Deans at the age of 32 for his first Test start in almost four years, then needed treatment following a crunching collision with Lions hooker Richard Hibbard.

Smith was able to return shortly afterwards, but the Lions maintained their dominance through two Halfpenny penalties either side of a Leali’ifano strike.

Australia, unlike in the opening two Tests, had no answer to the Lions’ scrummaging power as Corbisiero, Hibbard and Adam Jones tore into their opposite numbers, gaining a 16th-minute penalty that Halfpenny kicked.

It was relentless rugby by the Lions, brilliant in terms of its execution and underpinned by wonderful set-piece control, and Australia could find no way into the game.

The Wallabies were second-best in all areas, with their misery underlined by a sliced Kurtley Beale kick into touch that enabled the Lions to maintain their vice-like grip on proceedings.

French referee Romain Poite finally ran out of patience with Australia’s ailing scrum, sending prop Alexander to the sin-bin, and Halfpenny’s resulting penalty took him into the Lions record book.

Australia just had nowhere to go, and they even saw their most dangerous attacker Folau suffer a game-ending injury 13 minutes before the break when he limped off with what appeared to be a hamstring injury.

Folau’s replacement Jesse Mogg, a star of the Brumbies’ victory over the Lions last month, almost made a startling impact when he broke clear in midfield, but lock Geoff Parling’s tap-tackle took him to ground and probably prevented a try.

Australia desperately needed something before half-time, and Mogg’s arrival certainly gave them some attacking impetus.

And the Wallabies delivered right on cue. The interval hooter had already sounded, but after a third re-set scrum, possession found its way to O’Connor who weaved his way over, capitalising on weak defensive work from opposite number Sexton.

Leali’ifano added the conversion, and Australia were suddenly back in contention, trooping off 19-10 adrift.

And their momentum continued early in the second period as the Lions conceded two poor technical penalties around their 22-metre line, which Leali’ifano punished them for on both occasions.

A 16-point advantage one minute before the break had been reduced to just three after 46 minutes, and Australia looked a different team as Gatland made his first change, sending on Tom Youngs for Hibbard.

Further switches followed, and the Lions regained their composure as Halfpenny booted his fifth penalty before turning try-maker as his break set up Sexton for a potentially decisive 57th-minute touchdown.

It was the score that broke Australia’s back, and the final quarter proved a triumphant procession for the Lions as North and Roberts administered final try-scoring blows and the celebrations could begin.