LEIGH Halfpenny produced a command performance as the unbeaten British and Irish Lions delivered their best display Down Under just seven days before tackling Australia.
Scorers: Waratahs - Carter (2 Tries), McKibbin (2 Cons, Pen); Lions - Halfpenny (2 Tries, 4 Cons, 4 Pens), Sexton (Try), Croft (Try), Davies (Try), Farrell (Con)
Wales full-back Halfpenny scored 30 points – two tries, four conversions and four penalties – while stand-off Jonathan Sexton, flanker Tom Croft and centre Jonathan Davies also added touchdowns to complete an outstanding team performance.
The Waratahs played their part – centre Tom Carter claimed two tries, the first of which came after a missed tackle by Scotland’s Sean Maitland – but they were ultimately outclassed, with Halfpenny finishing just seven short of equalling the all-time individual Lions points record set by Alan Old in 1974.
There was, though, another injury scare for the Lions when centre Jamie Roberts limped off midway through the final quarter. He appeared in discomfort as he departed, adding his name to the Lions’ injury list that is currently headed by juggernaut winger George North.
Watching Wallabies head coach Robbie Deans, though, would have been far more concerned by the Lions’ quality of play, rather than any injury count. There were outstanding displays by Halfpenny, Davies, Sexton, wing Simon Zebo – he enjoyed a high-class Lions debut just four days after arriving from America as injury cover – locks Paul O’Connell and Alun-Wyn Jones, plus hooker Tom Youngs.
At times, the Waratahs were blown away by the Lions’ pace, intensity and support play, and they will arrive in Brisbane six days from now as favourites to take the opening Test series rubber.
On yesterday’s evidence, Australia have got it all to do as the Lions target a first Test series triumph since they beat South Africa 2-1 in 1997.
The Lions made a blistering start, moving 10-0 ahead after just six minutes – and it could have been even more. Zebo thought he had scored with his first touch of the ball in a Lions shirt on 40 seconds, but Waratahs full-back Drew Mitchell completed a superb try-saving tackle.
Halfpenny, though, kicked a 50-metre penalty three minutes later, before superb approach work from the Wales full-back, Zebo and Davies created an opening for Sexton that he finished emphatically.
Halfpenny landed the touchline conversion, leaving the Waratahs with an early mountain to climb as they faced a Lions side that had moved up a gear in terms of intensity.
Sexton then took a huge tackle from Waratahs lock Will Skelton, and as he was receiving treatment the Lions conceded a soft try, with Carter being freed in space and capitalising on some weak defensive work.
Scrum-half Bredan McKibbin added the extras from wide out before another successful Halfpenny penalty ended a fast and furious opening quarter with the Lions 13-7 in front.
The game was of a similar pace to the previous Saturday’s clash against Queensland Reds, but the Lions looked more composed under pressure than seven days previously, and another Halfpenny penalty extended their advantage to nine points.
McKibbin then found his range from 45 metres, though, before Halfpenny converted his own try and the Lions trooped off well ahead at the halfway stage.
And they began the second period in similar fashion to the first by posting an early try when Sexton, Roberts and Davies combined at pace to give Halfpenny an easy run-in.
Halfpenny’s conversion gave him 25 points in the game, and even though Carter claimed his second touchdown shortly afterwards – converted by McKibbin – the Lions still enjoyed control.
Another Halfpenny penalty, his fourth, made him the highest points-scorer in one match for the Lions against New South Wales, and with the Waratahs tiring, more opportunities looked set to present themselves.
Lions head coach Warren Gatland made six substitutions in one go with 21 minutes left, which included a first tour appearance for Ireland full-back Rob Kearney following his recovery from hamstring trouble.
The Lions played the final ten minutes with 14 men after Roberts departed, yet there was still time for Davies to sprint clear and claim try number five, with substitute Owen Farrell converting.
Waratahs: D Mitchell; C Crawford, R Horne, T Carter, P Betham; B Foley, B McKibbin; J Tilse, J Ulugia, P Ryan, W Skelton, O Atkins, J Holloway, P McCutcheon, D Dennis (capt). Replacements: L Holmes, R Aho, S Talakai, L Timani, A J Gilbert, M Lucas, B Volavola, T Kingston.
Lions: L Halfpenny (Wales); S Maitland (Scotland), J Davies (Wales), J Roberts (Wales), S Zebo (Ireland); J Sexton (Ireland), M Phillips (Wales); M Vunipola (England), T Youngs (England), A Jones (Wales), A-W Jones (Wales), P O’Connell (Ireland), T Croft (England), S Warburton (Wales, capt), J Heaslip (Ireland). Replacements: R Hibbard (Wales), A Corbisiero (England), D Cole (England), G Parling (England), D Lydiate (Wales), B Youngs (England), O Farrell (England), R Kearney (Ireland).