The 2013 British and Irish Lions will go down in history as only the fifth side in 125 years to claim a test series victory. Their performance in the final test against Australia was one of the greatest if not the greatest Lions performance of all-time and was a glorious vindication of Warren Gatland’s gameplan and selection. Here are the five players who for me defined the 2013 Lions.
There isn’t much more that can be said about the Lions full-back who was named man of the series. Halfpenny’s performances across the tour cemented his place as the best full-back in the world, his goal-kicking immediately stands out but his positioning, defence and counter-attacking play are all first class. His dazzling display in the third test surely rivals any previous effort from a Lions full-back, setting up two tries and finishing with a record 21 points from the boot.
We see it every Lions tour, a player who wasn’t even in the original squad gets his chance because of injury and ends the tour as one of the stars. This year that honour went to Alex Corbisiero who arrived as a replacement for Cian Healy and Gethin Jenkins and ended up as the key man in the Lions scrum. After giving the Lions a solid platform in the first test Corbisiero missed the defeat in Melbourne through injury, but roared back in the decisive third test scoring a try after one minute and demolishing Ben Alexander. If he can remain injury free he has the potential to be the world’s premier loosehead.
The Welsh lock was the surprise choice to captain the Lions in the all-important third test, but he proved himself to be a more than capable leader. His physicality and work-rate were outstanding in all three tests, but it also the emotion and pride with which he plays that make him such a brilliant man to have in the team.
Where do we start with George North? The gigantic winger provided several memorable moments for Lions fans. His try in the first test was one the great Lions scores, it was the perfect combination of speed, power and footwork. And nobody will forget the sight of North running down the field with Israel Folau on his back. Capped off his tour with the match clinching score in the third test, an unstoppable force when unleashed into open spaces.
Before the tour Sexton was touted as the man who would be the key to getting the Lions backline firing. During the warm-up games he showed plenty of good touches, in the first test he set up Alex Cuthbert’s try with a wonderfully delayed pass. The second test was much tougher for him, with very little ball to play with he struggled to put the Lions on the front-foot. But in the third test he showed all his class, scoring the crucial try and constantly threatening the Wallaby defence with his running and kicking. When he fired the Lions were impossible to deal with.