The British and Irish Lions took to the field in Sydney on Saturday knowing that their place in the rugby history books would be secured if they could beat their Australian hosts.

WORD | Leigh Halfpenny... (Image | talkSPORT)

Game face | Leigh Halfpenny celebrates as the British and Irish Lions wrap up a 2-1 series win in Australia. (Image | talkSPORT)

When they left the field 80 minutes later, the Lions had a 2-1 series win and became the first side since 1997 to achieve success in the Southern Hemisphere.

First test: Lions 23 Australia 21

The first match kicked off the series in a brutal fashion, with Wallabies centre Christian Leali’ifano being stretchered off less than a minute into his international debut.

However, the intensity did not ease from there, with players from both sides feeling the full force of the other side’s attack.

It was Australia that made the first breakthrough, scrum-half Will Genia chipping over Leigh Halfpenny to set up rugby league convert Israel Folau for a score on his first international cap.

Yet this was then countered by a superb solo try from Wales winger George North, who collected a kick 60 metres from the goal line and broke through three tackles to go over in the corner.

Folau hit back with his second, but poor kicking from James O’Connor meant that the tourists led 13-12 at the break. The Wallabies’ injury troubles continued after the break, with Berrick Barnes having left the field just before half time and Pat McCabe departing shortly after the restart.

They were forced to relocate flanker Michael Hooper to centre, a weak spot that was almost immediately exploited by Alex Cuthbert to extend the Lions’ lead.

Halfpenny and fullback Kurtley Beale then exchanged penalties as the game drew to a close, with Beale closing the gap to two points. However, he sliced a penalty wide five minutes from time and then slipped when attempting to land the final kick of the game, gifting the visitors the win.

Second test: Lions 15 Australia 16

Following a 35-0 midweek dismantling of the Melbourne Rebels by a second-string side, the tourists will have been optimistic when lining up against their opponents in the south eastern city a week after their initial victory.

However, they were denied the opportunity to play the kind of free-flowing rugby that had characterised the previous game as both teams tightened up their defences. The result was a cagey kicking battle that saw Halfpenny edge past a recovered Leali’ifano to take his side to 12-9 at the break.

The Lions proceeded to ward off wave after wave of Australian pressure in the second half, and fared rather well, as their 15-9 lead ten minutes from time looked to be enough for them to seal the win.

Yet it was not to be. O’Connor set up centre Adam Ashley-Cooper to go over in the corner before Leali’ifano made the conversion from out wide to put his side ahead. The Lions responded as the clock ticked down, running a penalty to halfway where they were awarded another penalty from the ensuing ruck.

Halfpenny elected to take the shot at goal but his boot failed him at the worst possible moment, his effort falling just short and allowing the hosts to claim a one-point victory.

Third test: Lions 41 Australia 16

The deciding match was played in front of a packed ANZ Stadium in Sydney, with the Lions hoping to make history with a win and the Aussies looking to defend their honour.

With victory in sight, the tourists got off to the best-possible start, with Northampton-bound prop Alex Corbisiero bludgeoning over after a good run by Alun-Wyn Jones took the Lions to the opposition goal line.

Halfpenny then added four penalties to a try from O’Connor and kicks from Leali’ifano to leave the hosts trailing 19-10 at half time.

It was in the second half that the visitors kicked on in attack. Having seen their lead eaten away to three points, Halfpenny eased the tension with another penalty before the floodgates opened.

The first try came when Ireland fly-half Jonathan Sexton went over to extend the lead, finishing a move he started after having taken a pass from Halfpenny out wide. Halfpenny then set up another try, this time putting North through in the corner.

Finally, replacement scrum-half Conor Murray set up Jamie Roberts in midfield for the giant Welsh centre to crash over and seal an emphatic win long before the game was over.

The series triumph exceeded all expectations for Lions fans that had seen the representative side lose three tours in a row between 2001 and 2009. This generation of British players, however, had the quality to pull through against strong opposition and clicked when it counted the most.

Player of the series: Leigh Halfpenny

There are very few more complete players in the game at the moment than Halfpenny. The young Welsh fullback was in the form of his life during the tour, with his 49 test points surpassing fellow Welshman Neil Jenkins’ record tally of 41.

What is more, his performance was not just about the goal kicking: he was electric in attack, both with his running and play making, and far more solid in defence than his comparatively small build would suggest he could be.

In short, Halfpenny did not put a foot wrong the entire time he was on the pitch, and stood out among a collection of world-class players.

Honourable mentions go to Sexton and Jonathan Davies for their exceptional attacking play, Dan Lydiate and Tommy Bowe for playing so well after long periods of injury, and Brian O’Driscoll and Adam Jones, who could celebrate the end of their Lions’ careers in style.

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