- Five-try Lions maintain momentum towards second Test
- Farrell and Tuilagi among Test hopefuls to impress
Melbourne Rebels 0 Lions 35
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The British and Irish Lions marked their final midweek outing with a comprehensive 35-0 win over the Rebels at Melbourne's AAMI Park.
It was far from a complete performance from the tourists and featured some lacklustre spells, but solid individual showings from Owen Farrell, Dan Lydiate, Sean O’Brien, Toby Faletau and the returning Manu Tuilagi, allied to intensity and organisation in defence, ensured a five-try triumph was never in doubt.
A purposeful start from the first kick-off – sparked by Sean Maitland’s lightning chase – immediately brought the Lions forwards into the game, Richie Gray and Richard Hibbard carrying with real intent.
However, the hosts held firm, transforming the opening exchanges into a somewhat scrappy affair. Rebels skipper Gareth Delve – he of 11 Wales caps – was at the heart of his side’s spoiling; a burly hit that stopped dead Scotland loose head Ryan Grant particularly eye-catching.
Eventually, though, Warren Gatland’s charges exerted more meaningful authority. Invigorated by their dominant scrum – Dan Cole and Hibbard perhaps exorcising the demons of their first Test cameos – Farrell began to bring his backs into the game on the quarter-hour mark.
The Lions stretched their Super 15 opponents on both flanks, Tuilagi prominent on his comeback and showing little sign of the shoulder injury he picked up against the Queensland Reds.
With the Rebels scrambling inside their 22, Farrell flew around the corner and fed Saracens club mate Brad Barritt, whose teasing grubber could only be carried over by the desperate cover.
A huge shove from Cole, Hibbard and Grant propelled the ensuing five-metre scrum towards the line, but the ball squirted out as referee Glen Jackson held out an arm for advantage. Before the New Zealand official could take further action, though, scrum half Conor Murray intervened, spinning out of the clutches of 37-cap Wallaby Luke Burgess to open the scoring on 16 minutes.
Farrell continued a very assured evening with a touchline conversion, but the contest descended once again into something fractured, the Lions’ lineout once more unsteady.
In fact, the Rebels had a chance to close the deficit to just four when O’Brien was penalised close to halfway for pilfering possession from the wrong side of a ruck but full back Jason Woodward faded his attempt to the right of the posts, before a very special try brought the game out of its lull.
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Steaming onto an inside ball from O’Brien, Tuilagi shrugged off Delve and launched a marauding run into Rebels territory where he linked up with Maitland. The Scotland wing then fed Toby Faletau – who made 16 carries and 13 tackles in an impressive display– before crossing in the right-hand corner when the ball was recycled.
Another excellent conversion from Farrell extended the Lions’ advantage to 14-0, and more quick-thinking from the fly half – tapping a penalty and freeing Simon Zebo to ignite a rapid break-out – almost forced the floodgates open.
To their immense credit, the Rebels did not fold and actually finished the first half on top, denied only thanks to Ian Evans’ brilliant steal from a five-metre lineout.
The Australian outfit were just as hard-working after the break, but strangely surrendered most of their possession with aimless punts, encouraging huge pressure on themselves.
That told ten minutes into the second half, when a prolonged period close to the Rebels line was finally capitalised upon by a cute lineout move – Faletau’s take transferred through the hands of Gray and captain Lydiate for O’Brien to barge over.
Once again Farrell bisected to uprights to improve the score – taking his tally of successful kicks to 18 of 19 on tour – but that was his last action as Stuart Hogg replaced him for the final half-hour.
A raft of changes understandably stunted the Lions’ structure thereafter and Rebels’ backs-to-the-wall effort was inspired by a loping break from replacement lock Luke Jones.
On the hour, though, newly-instated Lions hooker Rory Best set up a lineout drive that was rumbling irresistibly towards the line before being hauled down by Rebels Jordy Reid. Jackson headed to the posts to signal a penalty try without hesitation, sending the offending back-rower to the sin bin. Hogg added the simple conversion.
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In an all-too-familiar pattern, the final quarter offered little in the way of composure from either team, the disjointed play only punctuated by a sprightly solo try from Ben Youngs, who collected an off-the-top lineout from fellow Leicester Tiger Tom Croft and darted under the crossbar from 30 metres out. The England scrum half then stepped up to slot the extras himself, therein completing the scoring.
Gatland will have been pleased to cast his eye over another straightforward win, and even more content with the form of Test hopefuls O’Brien, Farrell, Faletau and Lydiate, who racked up 15 tackles over a 65-minute stint.
All eyes now turn to the head coach’s selection to see who is entrusted with sealing the series on Saturday.
Melbourne 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 (captain).
Replacements: Pat Leafa (for Robinson, 61) Cruze Ah-Nau (for Henderson, 61) Paul Alo-Emilie (for Weeks, 61), Luke Jones (for Pyle, 41), Jordy Reid (for Delve, 56), Nic Stirzaker (for Burgess, 56), Angus Roberts (for Hegarty, 72), Cooper Vuna (for Inman, 50).
Yellow card: Reid (63)
British and Irish 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 (captain), Sean O'Brien, Toby Faletau.
Replacements: Rory Best (for Hibbard, 55), Tom Court (for Grant, 55), Matt Stevens (for Cole, 55), Tom Croft (for Lydiate, 64), Justin Tipuric (for O'Brien, 55), Ben Youngs (for Murray, 62), Owen Farrell , Billy Twelvetrees (blood, for Barritt, 32-40, for Kearney, 62), Stuart Hogg (for Farrell, 52).
Referee: Glenn Jackson (NZ)