It was billed as the Wallabies' biggest game since the 2003 World Cup final. It started with an error reminiscent of Quade Cooper's kick out on the full in the World Cup semi-final against the All Blacks two years ago.
On small things a game can change. Will Genia's knock-on after a kick-off mix-up allowed the British and Irish Lions to not only be on the front foot but plant it well and truly on the Wallabies' throat. The Lions couldn't score a try in 80 minutes in Melbourne, but on the back of Genia's error they needed only 80 seconds for Alex Corbisero to crash over. Ominously, the English loose-head prop was to cause greater damage in the scrum.
It was a pressure that was not eased on the Wallabies until James O'Connor sidestepped his way past tiring Lions defenders after the half-time siren. The footwork of the five-eighth was part of Robbie Deans' plan to combat the
Pressure cooker: The Wallabies couldn't handle the Lions early pressure. Photo: Getty Images
slabs of Red meat – trailing 19-10 at the break was not.
In the intervening 39 minutes, the Wallabies' scrum resembled Barangaroo. Currently a demolition site but soon to be a building where the odds are stacked against all comers. Every scrum feed in the first half was a gamble for the Wallabies and it was the Lions who walked away with the chips.
In the 25th minute, tight-head prop Ben Alexander was sent to the sin bin for repeated infringements. He was effectively given an early shower by referee by Romain Poite. Alexander was not seen after his allotted 10 minutes.
Lions triumph in Third Test
Wallabies v Irish and British Lions third test clash at Sydney's ANZ Stadium. Selected images available from www.fairfaxsyndication.com Follow us at twitter.com/photosSMH Photo: Jonathan Carroll
Deans has been criticised for being too ponderous with his use of replacements, but in the front-row department he has been a hard marker.
Al Baxter's career ended abruptly at the same venue in 2009 after he conceded one free kick too many in the firsthalf against the All Blacks.
Alexander was himself subbed off against France in Paris in 2010 after he was a shown a yellow card and conceded a penalty try. On that occasion it led to a remarkable turnaround with the Wallabies scoring 46 points in the final 30 minutes. The Wallabies threatened a similar turnaround on Saturday night. Christian Lealiifano's faultless kicking got the Australians back within three points but it was as close as they would get.
The Lions, to their credit, had learnt their lessons from Melbourne. They tried not to lose the second Test, preferring to play for field position and sweat on mistakes. It was more chess than rugby. On Saturday night, they went for the win and three thrilling tries in the second-half confirmed their supremacy.
As disappointing as the result was for the Wallabies, Australia rugby was still a winner on Saturday night. The Lions have bought relevance to a code that struggles for attention in the shadow of dominant domestic football codes and a rejuvenated world game.
Relevance will not save Deans only results.