Planet Rugby

The British & Irish Lions


Lions roar in Sydney

15th June 2013 12:27


Tom Croft try Lions v Waratahs

Rapid: Tom Croft

The British and Irish Lions saw off the Waratahs with a strong 47-17 victory in their penultimate warm-up match before the Test series.

Far from a perfect performance but with plenty of positives, Leigh Halfpenny scored two tries and racked up 30 points overall in an accomplished performance that underlined his importance on this tour.

Many of those on the fringes of Test selection - Simon Zebo, Jonathan Davies, Tom Croft - were all outstanding and will give Warren Gatland plenty to ponder over the coming week.

The line-out problems of previous matches disappeared under the guidance of Tom Youngs and Paul O'Connell, but the Lions did not have everything their own way.

Much like the Reds last week, the Waratahs were dogged and resilient throughout and gave the Lions the physical challenge they wanted a week out from the first Test in Brisbane, with full-back Drew Mitchell truly excellent.

It was nearly the perfect start for the Lions - Davies putting Zebo into space down the left touchline only for Mitchell's brilliant tackle to force the Irishman's foot onto the line.

Halfpenny did add a long-range penalty shortly after though to put the Lions on the board in a fast start for the tourists.

They didn't wait long for a try. The combination of Zebo and Davies worked again as the Wales centre pulled in the cover, flicking the ball to Sexton on his inside for a 10-0 lead after less than 10 minutes.

The Lions attack looked fluid but their defence was monstrous, enormous tackles and dogged work at the breakdown putting the tourists up both on the scoreboard and in the referee's books early on.

A knock-on from Jamie Roberts squandered a comfortable overlap as the Lions hunted for a second try, but instead it was the Waratahs who crossed the whitewash.

With Sexton down receiving treatment, the Waratahs took a quick lineout and a clever chip across the field from Bernard Foley found Peter Betham in space, offloading inside to Tom Carter for the score in the corner.

Halfpenny's second penalty opened up the gap as Zebo continued to pop up everywhere, hungry to make an impression after only landing in Australia on Tuesday.

The Waratahs rallied impressively from their opening shock with a punishing series of phases up to the Lions try line, winning a five metre lineout before the giant Will Skelton knocked on going for the line as the Lions escaped.

From a scrum on their own line the Lions worked their way upfield into the Waratahs half, Halfpenny adding his third penalty from 46 metres out.

Minor errors let the Lions down - a lack of control at the base of a powerful scrum from Jamie Heaslip forcing them to scamper back to recover possession rather than drive over for another try.

Brendan McKibbin hit back with a penalty for the hosts as the Lions began to lose a grip on the game, the Waratahs confidence bubbling as Drew Mitchell pulled the strings along with Foley going forward.

A draining passage of play in the Lions 22 ultimately ended in a penalty to the tourists but rather than play for the interval, they went for the try.

Surging upfield, excellent handling from Paul O'Connell created the overlap outside for Halfpenny to dive over - the Lions starting and ending the half brilliantly to lead 23-10 at half-time.

Soft hands from the Lions pack after the break laid the foundation for the third try, and it was by far their best.

Sucking the Waratahs defenders to the right, the chemistry between Roberts, Davies and Halfpenny was undeniable as the full-back bagged his second try. With it came a 20-point lead.

The Waratahs though were not done - Carter crashing over after a scrappy rolling maul saw for him to grab his second try of the match on a memorable night for the talismanic number 12.

Thinking ahead to the first Test next weekend, Sexton was replaced by Owen Farrell as the Lions kept it tight, rumbling forward through their pack. An easy three points followed for Halfpenny to put the Lions 33-17 up after 50 minutes.

Davies' sharp interception then had the Waratahs scrambling and with numbers on the outside, Tom Croft flicked on the afterburners to sprint over into the corner - the Lions fourth try and 40 points on the board.

Seven of the Lions eight replacements then entered the fray as Rob Kearney made his first appearance on tour - Adam Jones, Halfpenny, O'Connell, Mike Phillips, Croft, Mako Vunipola and Tom Youngs all making way as they appear to be starters for the first Test.

A fifth try came in the final ten minutes, no one more deserving of a five-pointer than Davies who found too much space on the blindside to simply stroll in and keep putting real pressure on Brian O'Driscoll for that Test spot.

There were late injury concerns over the health of the two Jamies, Heaslip and Roberts, with the latter's expression as he slowly walked up the tunnel a worrying sight.

Overall though there was little to fear. Alun Wyn Jones' turnover at the death summed by his superb efforts as the Lions remained unbeaten on tour and by the end were comfortable winners. Onto the Brumbies and then, the first Test.

The scorers:

For Waratahs:
Tries: Carter 2
Cons: McKibbin 2
Pen: McKibbin

For Lions:
Tries: Sexton, Halfpenny 2, Croft, Davies
Cons: Halfpenny 4, Farrell
Pens: Halfpenny 4

Waratahs: 15 Drew Mitchell, 14 Cam Crawford, 13 Rob Horne, 12 Tom Carter, 11 Peter Betham, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Brendan McKibbin, 8 Dave Dennis (capt), 7 Pat McCutcheon, 6 Jed Holloway, 5 Ollie Atkins, 4 Will Skelton, 3 Paddy Ryan, 2 John Ulugia, 1 Jeremy Tilse.
Replacements: 16 Luke Holmes, 17 Richard Aho, 18 Sam Talakai, 19 Lopeti Timani, 20 AJ Gilbert, 21 Matt Lucas, 22 Ben Volavola, 23 Tom Kingston.

British and Irish Lions: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Michael Phillips, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sam Warburton (c), 6 Tom Croft, 5 Paul O'Connell, 4 Alun-Wyn Jones, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Tom Youngs, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Richard Hibbard, 17 Alex Corbisiero, 18 Dan Cole, 19 Geoff Parling, 20 Dan Lydiate, 21 Ben Youngs, 22 Owen Farrell, 23 Rob Kearney.

Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Jérôme Garcès (France), Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Television match official: Keith Brown (New Zealand)
Assessor: Scott Young/Andrew Cole (Australia)

by Ben Coles