The Lions had trouble in the first half at the scrum and their line-out was occasionally shaky. Ben Youngs struggled at scrum half, dithering at the put-in and firing away streaky passes. Joubert offered no scrummaging leeway for either side.
There was plenty of kicking on show – too much of it, and ill-directed at that. The Wallabies played far more rugby, looking to put the ball through hands but they, too, were less than fluent. The high error count continued early in the second period, with both sides struggling to keep possession.
Technical errors also came into play and Joubert did not require a second invitation to maintain the prolific penalty count.
And when the England prop collapsed a 16th-minute scrum, Leali’ifano stepped up to land an equalising penalty. Leali’ifano didn’t miss a beat on what was effectively his debut. It was a classy effort. Halfpenny cancelled out that kick five minutes later.
For as long as Warburton was on the field the Lions dictated causing the Wallabies to panic under pressure.
Warburton would make a tackle, get back on his feet instantly, contest the ball if a turnover was on but more often he would get back out in the defensive line and wait for the next ball-carrier. It was such a non-stop, physically gruelling effort that it was perhaps a surprise that his hamstring and other bits of his body lasted as long as 67 minutes.
The Wallabies for the most part had allowed the Lions to isolate ball-carriers, contest the breakdown and win a penalty if not the ball. On the occasions when Australia fashioned some space, they suffered from a plague of unforced errors, an egregious series of knock-ons a consequence of the occasion rather than the conditions that could not have been more conducive to running rugby with the roof closed and the playing surface dry.
Ben Youngs, who was uncomfortable in the Lions restrictive gameplan, wasted an advantage by losing the ball. It was the only time the Lions set up camp in Australia's 22. Their tactic for the most part was not to run the ball in their own territory and play the game within range of Halfpenny's boot but Youngs's box-kicking tended to be under or overdone – and it was a questionable tactic anyway given the proficiency of Australia's back three under the high ball.
Gatland soon made his first change, sending on Conor Murray for scrum-half Ben Youngs after 54 minutes, which was quickly followed by Youngs’ brother — hooker Tom — being replaced by Richard Hibbard.
A scoreless third quarter meant the Lions maintained their slender interval advantage before wing George North hit the ground following a crunching tackle on Wallabies speedster Israel Folau.
North quickly returned to action and Halfpenny rifled over a penalty from halfway to give the Lions breathing space despite losing Warburton for the final stages.
Australia led 6-3 after 23 minutes through two Leali'ifano penalties, both given against Mako Vunipola for collapsing the scrum. When Ben Mowen was blown after releasing the tackler, getting back on his feet and contesting for the ball only to be shoved by an opponent, it summed up the swing from the previous week.
Yet there was still time for Halfpenny to restore the Lions’ three-point advantage after Joubert punished Wallabies flanker Ben Mowen for not rolling away.
But Australia had other ideas and stormed deep into the Lions’ 22, driven forward by outstanding hooker Stephen Moore.
It was all hands to the pump and the tourists threw their bodies on the line, but wave after wave of Wallabies attacks looked increasingly likely to take a toll.
And the resistance was finally broken when Ashley-Cooper smashed through Davies for a try.
Leali'ifano's angled conversion gave the Wallabies the lead but the twist had only just started its spiral. O'Connor committed a wretched error from the restart by kicking the ball dead on the full; Richard Hibbard's throw to Tom Croft was snaffled by Liam Gill and there were four seconds left when Joubert pinged Australia for holding on.
Two drives later, Mowen was caught on the wrong side and Halfpenny, like Beale the week before, had a chance to win the game. He tried to steal a few metres but was spotted by the referee and while he did not fall over, his kick fell short and, as in 1989 and 2001, it will be decided in Sydney.
In truth, the British and Irish Lions did not deserve that last-gasp chance. They had been edgy and fretful throughout. They never managed to unleash their strike weapons on the wing, George North or Tommy Bowe. They were honest enough to admit to that, with one telling phrase from fly-half Jonathan Sexton encapsulating their crankiness and inhibitions.
“It felt as if we were wishing that the game would finish rather than go after it,” Sexton said. “We are all devastated. We didn’t play well enough and didn’t deserve to win.”
A pulsating contest will now go to the wire, although the Lions might have to make do without skipper Sam Warburton, who limped off nursing what appeared to be a knee injury 13 minutes from time.
Gatland’s men head north to Queensland next for four days in the coastal resort of Noosa knowing they must regroup quickly.