Jonathan Sexton scored a try and Conor Murray set up another as the British & Irish Lions defeated Australia comprehensively to end their 16-year wait for a Test series win.
The resilient Wallabies made the Lions work hard for the opening hour of the decisive third Test in Sydney, but three tries in the final 22 minutes confirmed the tourists as 2-1 series winners.
Jonathan Sexton, George North and Jamie Roberts all touched during that one-sided period as the backs finally clicked into gear, with the Lions pack having provided the platform right from the kick-off.
A try after just 76 seconds from returning prop Alex Corbisiero launched the Lions’ bid for glory, and their dominant scrum platform helped them register 16 points in as many minutes.
Warren Gatland’s men were able to maintain a 16-point buffer until James O’Connor’s quick feet saw him slip through for a converted try on the stroke of half-time.
With Christian Leali’ifano stroking home two early penalties in the second period, the Lions’ 19-3 advantage had been cut to 19-16 and the game was suddenly gripped by a tension that became all too familiar for Lions fans in the first two Tests.
But Sydney would ultimately have a different and much more memorable conclusion as Leigh Halfpenny, a very desering winner of the player of the series award, landed his fifth successful penalty of the night.
The Lions duly broke clear of their hosts entering the final quarter. Halfpenny provided the assists for Sexton and North’s tries and converted the Dubliner’s score, putting his side out of sight at 34-16.
The final gloss was supplied by centre Roberts who, like Corbisiero, was returning from injury. He was set free by a deliciously inviting pass from Conor Murray and romped over for a seven-pointer that had the Wallabies out for the count.
Tommy Bowe and Sean O’Brien were the two other Irish players involved in the ANZ Stadium clash, with Bowe proving increasingly influential as the game wore on and openside O’Brien – tackling and carrying and dovetailing well with Dan Lydiate – getting through a huge amount of work during a dynamic 60-minute display.
The Lions got off to a dream start, Will Genia’s knock on from Sexton’s kick-off setting up an early scrum from which the Wallabies coughed up a free-kick.
Mike Phillips’ quick tap released Bowe for a cut at Joe Tomane, stand-in captain Alun Wyn Jones and O’Brien carried closer in to the posts and prop Corbisiero did well to muscle over for his try from a couple of metres out.
Halfpenny slotted the conversion but the Australians responded strongly, winning two penalties on the trot and Kurtley Beale was called upon to kick for the right corner.
The fit-again Roberts was forceful in the tackle and another textbook hit by Lydiate, with O’Brien following up to get over the ruck ball and win a penalty, allowed Halfpenny to extend the lead to 10-0.
A call of blocking from the restart saw Leali’ifano get the Wallabies off the mark and they were given a further boost with George Smith’s return to the pitch – the veteran flanker had looked very groggy after colliding with Richard Hibbard and Alun Wyn Jones.
Those three points were cancelled out by Halfpenny, who drilled over from 45 metres out as the Lions scrum continued to dictate.
Referee Romain Poite had little option but to side with the Lions pack again when the Wallaby front row stood up in the 16th minute, and Halfpenny followed up with another three points.
16-3 in front, half-backs Sexton and Phillips were brimming with confidence as the Lions counter-attacked out wide and in the air.
Israel Folau covered and kicked well and then popped up in attack at the end of the first quarter, only to be met by a meaty challenge from North and shortly afterwards Sexton was central to a turnover.
Jonathan Davies maintained the tourists’ high standards with a peach of a kick to the left corner, although a couple of handling errors ruined the build-up play.
Poite lost his patience with the Australian scrum in the 25th minute, promptly sin-binning tighthead Ben Alexander for repeated infringements and Halfpenny duly widened the margin to 19-3.
The hosts suffered a further blow when a hamstring injury forced danger man Folau off. They were then taken through a punishing series of phases as Toby Faletau and Corbisiero carried powerfully.
A snap attempt at a drop goal from Sexton missed the target before Australia finally found some space to unleash their back-line.
Beale passed out of the tackle for replacement Jesse Mogg to blast through the middle, but a well-timed tap tackle from Geoff Parling brought him down on the 22.
The Lions went into cul-de-sacs at times and some muddled play between Halfpenny and Davies invited the Wallabies forward from a penalty.
Some stellar high fielding from Bowe and North kept the Lions in possession, but the Wallabies were definitely improving and their skipper James Horwill’s insistence on turning down kickable penalties earned them a late cut at the try-line.
Their bravery was rewarded in injury-time when from a set scrum to the right of the posts, Genia passed for O’Connor to wriggle his way past Sexton and O’Brien and crash over for a much-needed try.
Leali’ifano’s conversion brought the first half to a close and gave the Wallabies a real fillip, leaving just nine points between the sides.
It was a soft concession – those tackles really should have been made – Leali’ifano gave the hosts further momentum with a penalty just two minutes after the break.
With their lead cut from 19-3 to 19-13, the Lions needed to answer back quickly and Australia got the rub of the green when Smith and Horwill were allowed to chase a Genia kick from an offside position.
The resulting lineout maul led to a side entry call against the Lions and Leali’ifano’s penalty from close range suddenly made it a three-point game.
The Lions tried to get big wingers North and Bowe involved on an angled bursts, and excellent work from Adam Jones yielded another scrum penalty from which Halfpenny split the posts.
Sexton relieved the pressure on the Lions defence as he used a Faletau turnover to fling a deft kick forward for North and Davies to combine on the counter.
The in-form Ireland out-half turned try scorer in the 58th minute as the Lions put some much-needed daylight between themselves and the Wallabies. Davies carried strongly with Bowe the decoy on the left, and the supporting Halfpenny set Sexton free for a run in behind the posts.
Television match official Vinny Munro confirmed that Halfpenny’s flat final pass to Sexton was legal and the Welsh full-back converted for a 29-16 advantage.
What looked to be the final nail in the coffin came with 65 minutes on the clock, and once more Halfpenny led by example. He fielded a kick, broke past Genia and Joe Tomane and passed left for North to finish off in the left corner.
The conversion was missed but the Lions really had the upper hand now and just three minutes later, Murray, who came on for Phillips, attacked from a scrum and his fine pass sent Roberts through a gap and over for try number four.
Murray’s quick delivers from the base of rucks and scrums really helped the Lions take the game to Australia in the closing stages, with the Limerick youngster ending his first Lions tour in dream-like fashion.
Halfpenny’s conversion completed his 21-point haul – a record for a Lions player in a Test match – and the 41 scored by Gatland’s side was also a new Lions record, beating the previous best by the 1966 Lions (31-0 against Australia in Brisbane).
They almost conjured up a late fifth try with Bowe leaping for a kick over the top from replacement Owen Farrell, but Australia scrambled to save another concession and the margin remained at 25 points.
The Lions had certainly saved the best until last in this series, and there was a nice touch of glass by tour captain Sam Warburton and Alun Wyn Jones who, having lifted the Tom Richards trophy at the presentation, quickly sought out the two most recent tour skippers – Brian O’Driscoll (2005) and Paul O’Connell (2009) – for the Irish pair to raise the cup aloft together.
TIME LINE: 2 minutes – British & Irish Lions try: Alex Corbisiero – 0-5; conversion: Leigh Halfpenny – 0-7; 8 mins – British & Irish Lions penalty: Leigh Halfpenny – 0-10; 10 mins – Australia penalty: Christian Leali’ifano – 3-10; 13 mins – British & Irish Lions penalty: Leigh Halfpenny – 3-13; 16 mins – British & Irish Lions penalty: Leigh Halfpenny – 3-16; 25 mins – Australia yellow card: Ben Alexander; 26 mins – British & Irish Lions penalty: Leigh Halfpenny – 3-19; 40+2 mins – Australia try: James O’Connor – 8-19; conversion: Christian Leali’ifano – 10-19; Half-time – Australia 10 British & Irish Lions 19; 42 mins – Australia penalty: Christian Leali’ifano – 13-19; 46 mins – Australia penalty: Christian Leali’ifano – 16-19; 52 mins – British & Irish Lions penalty: Leigh Halfpenny – 16-22; 58 mins – British & Irish Lions try: Jonathan Sexton – 16-27; conversion: Leigh Halfpenny – 16-29; 65 mins – British & Irish Lions try: George North – 16-34; conversion: missed by Leigh Halfpenny – 16-34; 68 mins – British & Irish Lions try: Jamie Roberts – 16-39; conversion: Leigh Halfpenny – 16-41; Full-time – Australia 16 British & Irish Lions 41
AUSTRALIA: Kurtley Beale (Melbourne Rebels); Israel Folau (NSW Waratahs), Adam Ashley-Cooper (NSW Waratahs), Christian Leali’ifano (ACT Brumbies), Joe Tomane (ACT Brumbies); James O’Connor (Melbourne Rebels), Will Genia (Queensland Reds); Benn Robinson (NSW Waratahs), Stephen Moore (ACT Brumbies), Ben Alexander (ACT Brumbies), Kane Douglas (NSW Waratahs), James Horwill (Queensland Reds) (capt), Ben Mowen (ACT Brumbies), George Smith (ACT Brumbies), Wycliff Palu (NSW Waratahs).
Replacements used: Michael Hooper (NSW Waratahs) for Smith (5-10 mins, blood sub), Sekope Kepu (NSW Waratahs) for Smith (28-36, temp sub), Jesse Mogg (ACT Brumbies) for Folau (28), Kepu for Alexander (36), Saia Fainga’a (Queensland Reds) for Moore (56-63, blood sub), Ben McCalman (Western Force) for Palu (60), Rob Simmons (Queensland Reds) for Douglas (63), Hooper for Smith, James Slipper (Queensland Reds) for Robinson (both 67), Nick Phipps (Melbourne Rebels) for Tomane (70), Fainga’a for Moore (72).
BRITISH & IRISH LIONS: Leigh Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues/Wales); Tommy Bowe (Ulster/Ireland), Jonathan Davies (Scarlets/Wales), Jamie Roberts (Cardiff Blues/Wales), George North (Scarlets/Wales); Jonathan Sexton (Leinster/Ireland), Mike Phillips (Bayonne/Wales); Alex Corbisiero (London Irish/England), Richard Hibbard (Ospreys/Wales), Adam Jones (Ospreys/Wales), Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys/Wales) (capt), Geoff Parling (Leicester Tigers/England), Dan Lydiate (Newport Gwent Dragons/Wales), Sean O’Brien (Leinster/Ireland), Toby Faletau (Newport Gwent Dragons/Wales).
Replacements used: Tom Youngs (Leicester Tigers/England) for Hibbard (48 mins), Conor Murray (Munster/Ireland) for Phillips (52), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys/Wales) for Faletau (56-60, blood sub), Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers/England) for A Jones (56), Tipuric for O’Brien (60), Owen Farrell (Saracens/England) for Sexton (63), Richie Gray (Scotland) for Parling, Mako Vunipola (Saracens/England) for Corbisiero (both 68), Manu Tuilagi (Leicester Tigers/England) for Roberts (70).
Referee: Romain Poite (France)