Graham Boville in Australia
Lions 35 – 0 RaboDirect Rebels
The British and Irish Lions secured a convincing five-try victory against the RaboDirect Rebels in Melbourne on Tuesday evening, bringing up the Lions’ 100th victory on Australian soil.
Converted tries from scrumhalf Conor Murray and winger Sean Maitland settled Lion’s nerves following a cagey opening 15 minutes to give the tourists a 14-0 half time lead.
Second half converted tries from Sean O’Brien and Ben Youngs, either side of a penalty try, ensured the Lions were runaway victors, leaving their opposition scoreless for the second time this tour.
The opening 15 minutes was a cagey affair for both teams. The majority of the rugby was played in the middle of the park, and any attacking threat that the Rebels were able to muster was easily absorbed through the bruising front row of Grant, Hibbard and Cole.
The Lions scored the opening try through Munsterman Conor Murray in what was one of their first major forays into their opponents 22; following fine work from the recently recovered centre Manu Tuilagi.
The freshly-declared-fit centre showed his strength through the middle as he broke through the hosts backline to their 22 before being hauled down. The ball was recycled back to Brad Barritt who kicked for Maitland to chase, Rebels scrum half Burgess could only carry the ball over himself to give the Lions an attacking 5m scrum.
The tourists, with their tails up, shunted their opponents back over their own try line before Faletau, who controlled the scrum excellently, picked up and went himself, but was held up just shy of the line.
The ball squeezed its way out of the back of the ruck to Conor Murray, who spun back inside his two tacklers, to score with the simplest of finishes. Farrell was on hand to predictably kick the tricky conversion to give the Lions a 7-0 lead.
The first opportunity for the home side to contribute to the scoreboard came ten minutes later when Sean O’Brien was penalised for being off-off side (so offside, the word offside doesn’t quite cover it) at the ruck.
Jason Woodward was left with a kick almost identical to the kick his domestic teammate Kurtley Beale faced in the dying seconds of the first test. One that, like Beale, he duly missed.
And it’s hard to know why the cameraman chose this exact moment to focus on the sheepish looking Beale, who was sitting in the crowd. Perhaps it was confusion. Perhaps the he thought that receiving a cheer from his home crowd might help build his confidence.
This thought was misguided…
Cue at least 15,000 Lions’ supporters, of whom many had been drinking for over 12 hours, simultaneously rising to their feet to point and laugh at the screen. There was no booing; there was no jeering, just genuine belly laughter directed at the troubled fullback. Renditions of Amy Winehouse’s ‘Rehab’ and Underworld’s ‘Born Slippy’ also broke out in patches around AAMI Park.
It looked at that moment as if Beale would have given all the wages he’d earned throughout the year, to be sucked deep into the ground. None of which, sadly, was really picked up by the TV cameras.
Thoughts soon turned back to the game on show, and the vocal crowd were rewarded again three minutes later when Sean Maitland eventually crossed the line to score what is arguably the Lion’s most fluid try of the tournament, with Tuilagi once again playing a pivotal role.
O’Brien played a ball inside to Tuilagi on the halfway line, who gained 20 metres whilst holding off the tackles of two scrambling Rebels defenders, sucking in two more before unloading to Maitland in support.
The winger made a B-Line for the posts before passing to an unmarked Faletau, who slipped just short of the line when it seemed easier to score. By this point, the damage was done, and the speed of the break meant that the home side had little time to recover their numbers. Barritt played scrum half to Zebo’s first receiver, the latter fizzed the ball back to Maitland who dove over the line to score, his first of the tournament.
Following the successful conversion, good work from Farrell and Zebo almost saw them go over again in the corner not long after the restart. The fly half tapped a quick penalty to the shock of the home XV and released Zebo in support. The Winger, who outlined his credentials for test selection, beat two men, but his return pass was forward, and the attack ended there.
The score at the interval remained 14-0.
The Lions were camped within the Rebels 22 for the majority of the opening ten minutes of the restart, and were rewarded when their pressure yielded a richly deserved try for the battling Sean O’Brien.
Hibbard went short to Faletau from the lineout, who then offloaded quickly to Lydiate who was running round the back of the resulting ruck. The captain had O’Brien in support down the blindside, who received the ball and was free to ride the challenge down to the ground to score.
The Lion’s fourth, courtesy of a penalty try ten minutes later put the game well and truly to bed. Replacement hooker Best went short with the lineout to Dan Evans, who gathered easily.
The ball was recycled through the back of the resulting maul to Best who was tackled illegally round the side by Jordy Reid just as the pack were gaining momentum, and about to go over the line. The referee correctly awarded the penalty try and a yellow card to the replacement flanker.
A final try for Ben Youngs with seven minutes remaining completed the rout for the lions following another successful attacking lineout from Best. I know, right!?
The No. 2 went long to Croft who tapped down quickly to Youngs. The scrumhalf sold the dummy and burst through the Rebels defensive line, showing great pace and strength to fend off Jarrod Saffy to score under the posts, in a manner that I think shows why he will be the starting scrum half this Saturday.
To the Rebels credit, they did keep pushing and seemed desperately to want to score a try in front of their sell out home crowd. However, the Lions’ staunch defence held up strongly, as they managed to bungle their opponents’ last attacking effort into touch to secure the convincing victory.
Rebels: Jason Woodward; Tom English, Mitch Inmar, Rory Sidey, Lachlan Mitchell; Bryce Hegarty, Luke Burgess; Nic Henderson, Ged Robinson, Laurie Weeks, Cadeyrn Neville, Hugh Pyle, Jarrod Saffy, Scott Fuglistaller, Gareth Delve (capt).
Replacements: Pat Leafa, Cruze Ah-Nau, Paul Alo-Emilie, Luke Jones, Jordy Reid, Nic Stirzaker, Angus Roberts, Cooper Vuna.
Lions: Rob Kearney; Sean Maitland, Manu Tuilagi, Brad Barritt, Simon Zebo; Owen Farrell, Conor Murray; Ryan Grant, Richard Hibbard, Dan Cole, Richie Gray, Ian Evans, Dan Lydiate (capt), Sean O’Brien, Toby Faletau.
Replacements: Rory Best, Tom Court, Matt Stevens, Tom Croft, Justin Tipuric, Ben Youngs, Billy Twelvetrees, Stuart Hogg.
B&I Lions line-up for the second test on Saturday
15. Leigh Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues/Wales)
14. Tommy Bowe (Ulster/Ireland)
13. Brian O’Driscoll (Leinster/Ireland)
12. Jonathan Davies (Scarlets/Wales)
11. George North (Scarlets/Wales)
10. Jonathan Sexton (Leinster/Ireland)
9. Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers/England)
1. Makovina Vunipola (Saracens/England)
2. Tom Youngs (Leicester Tigers/England)
3. Adam Jones (Ospreys/Wales)
4. Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys/Wales)
5. Geoff Parling (Leicester Tigers/England)
6. Dan Lydiate (Dragons/Wales)
7. Sam Warburton (Cardiff Blues/Wales) Captain
8. Jamie Heaslip (Leinster/Ireland)
16. Richard Hibbard (Ospreys/Wales)
17. Ryan Grant (Glasgow Warriors/Scotland)
18. Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers/England)
19. Tom Croft (Leicester Tigers/England)
20. Sean O’Brien (Leinster/Ireland)
21. Conor Murray (Munster/Ireland)
22. Owen Farrell (Saracens/England)
23. Alex Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues/Wales)