Full-back Leigh Halfpenny scored all of the Lions points but he also fell just short with an 80th-minute kick from halfway as the Wallabies celebrated a 16-15 triumph in Melbourne.
All five Leicester Tigers players named in the matchday 23 played some part, with Geoff Parling starting his first Lions Test and Ben and Tom Youngs becoming the first Lions brothers to start a Test in almost 25 years. Tom Croft and Dan Cole were both involved as second-half replacements.
After a 23-21 victory in Brisbane in the opening Test, the Lions had the chance to clinch a series victory and they were halfway there as they led 12-9 at half-time thanks to three Halfpenny penalties.
In a tight, tense and error-ridden contest, centre Christian Leali’Ifano kicked three out of three for Australia in the first period as neither side could really build any momentum or attack through the phases.
Halfpenny had already hit the crossbar with a kick early on before getting on the scoreboard in the ninth minute.
Two penalties given against the Lions scrum allowed Leali’Ifano to kick the hosts into a 6-3 lead by 23 minutes, but the Lions pack responded with two big scrums as Halfpenny kicked them 9-6 ahead.
Lions were caught offside to give Leali’Ifano the chance to level again but, in their best attack of the half, starting with George North on the left, the Lions gained another penalty with the clock ticking up to 40 minutes and Halfpenny kept calm to slot the kick.
Cole joined the fray just before the hour mark and his first involvement was at a huge scrum drive which gained yet another Lions penalty which Halfpenny struck from just short of halfway for a 15-9 advantage.
With Croft on for injured skipper Sam Warburton, the Lions spent the last 10 minutes almost entirely in their own 22, defending well but never able to fully clear the lines.
Australia went for a five-metre scrum after being awarded a penalty but then knocked on in midfield. But still they knocked at the Lions door and, after another set of phases, quick ball to the left allowed Adam Ashley-Cooper to force his way through for a score which give Leali’Ifano the chance to kick them into the lead with just three minutes remaining.
Leali’Ifano, injured just a minute into the opening Test a week earlier, kept his cool to land the kick and give Australia a 16-15 lead.
The Lions did have a chance to respond with an attacking lineout from the restart but the Wallabies turned over ball and the home side also survived when Halfpenny was given one final opportunity with a penalty from halfway.
This time the posts stayed just out of range as the ball fell five metres short and the Wallabies cleared to secure a vital victory.