THE British and Irish Lions roared to victory in nine-try fashion at Patersons Stadium yesterday, with the ankle injury suffered by Ireland prop Cian Healy the only real setback for a touring side far quicker in thought and deed than their spirited, but outclassed, opponents.
The Lions ran in tries by captain Brian O’Driscoll (2), Jonathan Sexton, Tom Croft, Jamie Heaslip, Mako Vunipola, Tommy Bowe, Owen Farrell and Geoff Parling, while full-back Leigh Halfpenny produced a goalkicking masterclass. Halfpenny, this year’s Six Nations player of the tournament, booted all nine conversions – several from the touchline – and two penalties for 24 points and a 100 per cent record.
The Force replied with touchdowns by forwards Richard Brown and Lachlan McCaffrey, while scrum-half Brett Sheehan converted both and landed a penalty, but they had no answer to some perpetual motion rugby by the tourists.
O’Driscoll, on the first appearance of his fourth successive Lions tour, steered the ship majestically but he had any number of willing workers alongside him, most notably the sublime Sexton and strong-running flanker Sean O’Brien.
It was just the start head coach Warren Gatland would have wanted to a nine-game Australian tour schedule, highlighted by three Test match appointments with the Wallabies.
The Lions have already clocked up 128 points and 17 tries in two games and the early signs are hugely encouraging for what awaits them during the next month.
The Lions, showing a completely changed line-up following last Saturday’s victory over the Barbarians in Hong Kong, went ahead through an early Halfpenny penalty after Bowe sliced open Western Force’s defence.
And Bowe’s break proved a sign of things to come as the Lions relentlessly built pressure, with O’Brien proving a particularly effective link in terms of continuity.
The Force had their work cut out keeping a consistent defensive shape, and they were horribly outfoxed by Sexton when he danced his way over from 20 metres, beating three players in the process.
Halfpenny converted, only for the Force to find themselves immediately back in their 22 and play was briefly held up when referee Glen Jackson – the former Saracens stand-off – sought video assistance for alleged foul play.
An unnamed Force player claimed he had been bitten, but no evidence could be found despite the television match official reviewing play from a number of different angles.
It sparked the Force into action, though, and a committed counter-attack briefly shunted the Lions out of their rhythm, but they had no real problem successfully defending their line.
A Sheehan penalty eight minutes before half-time then opened the Force’s account before O’Driscoll claimed a well-worked touchdown and Croft also scored.
And the third quarter was one-way traffic with Heaslip powering over before Healy’s replacement Vunipola touched down in the corner.
It was relentless by the Lions, and, even though Brown’s try momentarily knocked them out of their stride, they quickly surged back upfield to camp deep inside Western Force’s 22.
The Force struggled to contain wave after wave of attacking red shirts and their job was made even tougher midway through the half when centre Ed Stubbs was sin-binned for not rolling away from a ruck.
Stubbs’ poor discipline was immediately punished when the Lions easily worked Bowe across for try number six, which Halfpenny again converted from the touchline that continued his remarkable show of accuracy. The Lions were in no mood to take their foot off the accelerator, and further scores followed in quick succession by O’Driscoll and Farrell, although Croft’s evening ended early when he left the action gingerly after a clash of heads with Brown.
Lions lock Alun-Wyn Jones received a late yellow card for a technical infringement but his team was long home and hosed, ready to begin preparations for a far sterner encounter against Queensland Reds in Brisbane on Saturday.
Western Force: Christie, Haylett-Petty, Stubbs, Tuatara-Morrison, C. Brown, Norton-Knight, Sheehan, Manu, Hilterbrand, Ma’afu, Lynn, Battye, Cottrell, Hodgson, R. Brown. Replacements: Roach, Kolo, Metcher, Matwijow, McCaffrey, Mathewson, Haining, Rasolea.
British & Irish Lions: Halfpenny, Bowe, O’Driscoll, Tuilagi, North, Sexton, Murray, Healy, Best, Cole, Evans, A. Jones, Croft, O’Brien, Heaslip. Replacements: T. Youngs, Vunipola, Stevens, Parling, Faletau, B. Youngs, Farrell, Maitland.
HOW THEY RATED
Leigh Halfpenny - All but sealed his place in the Test team with an astonishing display of place kicking and was also magnificent in open play. 8/10
Tommy Bowe - Opened the match with an eye-catching break and showed strength to cross in the second half but, otherwise, it was a quiet afternoon. 6
Brian O’Driscoll - Raced in for a first-half try after intelligent play from himself and the Lions. Partnership with Manu Tuilagi showed promise. 6
Manu Tuilagi - One moment in the second half was Tuilagi at his best, breaking the gainline and offloading for O’Driscoll’s second try. 6
George North - Showed his strength time and again. His ability to ride tackles and offload make him a nightmare to defend against. 7
Jonathan Sexton - Marked his first Lions start by demonstrating why he is the Test stand-off in waiting with a smart display brimming with creativity. 8
Conor Murray - A step backwards after his impressive cameo against the Barbarians. Ben Youngs looked sharper when he came on. 6
Cian Healy - Full debut start for the Lions ended in the first half when he was stretchered off with an ankle injury. Also the centre of a biting allegation. 5
Rory Best - A real missed opportunity for the Ireland hooker, whose throwing at the lineout continues to be of concern. Quiet in the loose. 5
Dan Cole - Did little to suggest Adam Jones needs to fear for his Test place, but his workrate was high and he gave it his all. 6
Alun Wyn Jones - Late sin-binning ended his match and, while he was solid and dependable, he must produce more to break into the Test team. 6
Ian Evans - Muscular display in the tight, but Paul O’Connell and Richie Gray have the edge in Test selection two games into the tour. 6
Tom Croft - Thrives in the wide channels where his pace and power can cause havoc. Scored a try and spent a spell in the concussion bin. 7
Sean O’Brien - Superb display from the rampaging Ireland openside – carried well, offered a line-out option, played with intelligence and showed great hands. 9
Jamie Heaslip - Grew in stature as the match progressed, repeatedly racing into space, and was a powerful force in the Lions’ pack. 8
Tom Youngs - Combative and direct, he was an important arrival from the bench. 6
Mako Vunipola - Replaced Healy and took his chance by making several tackle-busting breaks. 7
Matt Stevens - Inconspicuous as the Force were put to the sword. 5
Geoff Parling - Played with real urgency and deserved his try. Outshone both starting locks. 7
Toby Faletau - One pass went astray in his brief cameo. 5
Ben Youngs - Sharp and energetic, gave the Lions more of a threat around the fringes than Murray. 6
Owen Farrell - Raced over with his first touch of the match to score a try his confidence needed. 6