THE British and Irish Lions concluded their midweek tour schedule in Australia with a comprehensive victory at AAMI Park.
Tries: Murray, Maitland, O’Brien, penalty, Youngs. Conversions: Farrell 3, Hogg 2
Referee: G Jackson (NZ)
And a handful of players, including Scotland’s Richie Gray, Sean Maitland and Ryan Grant, enhanced their claims to feature in coach Warren Gatland’s matchday 23 for Saturday’s second Test against the Wallabies.
Flanker Sean O’Brien – another star performer – scrum-half Conor Murray, his replacement Ben Youngs and wing Maitland all scored tries, while there was a second-half penalty try that underlined the Lions’ forward dominance.
Stand-off Owen Farrell kicked three conversions and Stuart Hogg landed two as they kept an outgunned Rebels side scoreless.
Barely 24 hours after talismanic Ireland lock Paul O’Connell was ruled out of the tour due to a broken arm, Gatland will have been encouraged by second-rows Ian Evans and Gray being prominent influences throughout.
And Toby Faletau kept the pressure on current Test No 8 Jamie Heaslip with arguably his most complete contribution Down Under.
It was a vastly-improved effort on last Tuesday’s 14-12 loss to the Brumbies in Canberra, when the Lions barely fired a shot in anger, but there was a determined and driven streak about them this time around.
Captain for the night Dan Lydiate told Sky Sports 1: “We definitely had to up our game coming here and we wanted to get the result and keep the momentum going for the weekend. It’s a massive game for us this weekend and a few of the boys are putting their hands up for selection.
“A lot of boys missed out on selection last weekend so they really wanted to take their chance tonight. The main thing was to play well as a team but also to play well as an individual and put yourself forward.”
England centre Manu Tuilagi, making his first appearance since suffering a shoulder injury two weeks ago, and O’Brien were particularly prominent in the opening stages, but the tourists also encountered a well-marshalled Rebels defence.
Rebels captain and Wales international Gareth Delve underlined his team’s commitment with a crunching tackle on Grant, but the Lions’ pressure had to tell and they claimed the opening try after 15 minutes.
They drove for the line from a five-metre scrum and, although they were initially thwarted, possession spun backwards and Murray reacted quickly to pick up and dive over.
A poor handling error by prop Dan Cole wasted a promising position and the Rebels moved upfield, only for Jason Woodward to miss a straightforward penalty chance.
And the Lions made him pay when they conjured one of their best tries of the tour. Tuilagi made it possible through a barnstorming run just inside the Rebels’ half and his brilliant off-load freed Maitland, who then found Faletau, but he was denied a try when he slipped. There was no panic from the tourists, though, and quickly recycled possession via Brad Barritt and Simon Zebo enabled Maitland to touch down for a try that Farrell again converted.
O’Brien gave the Lions an injury scare when he went down hurt just two minutes after the restart – before scoring a try from the Lions’ next attack.
Farrell again kicked to the corner as the Lions went for a lineout option and Faletau found skipper Dan Lydiate, who delivered the final pass to O’Brien.
Farrell maintained ruthless touchline accuracy as his third successful conversion made it 21-0, and then he was replaced by Hogg as Gatland cast an eye towards Saturday’s Wallabies showdown.
A penalty try followed 16 minutes from time when Rebels forward Jordy Reid illegally halted a Lions attack and, as he made his way to the sin-bin, Hogg converted.
The Lions had enough time to unlock their opponents one more time when Youngs claimed a superb solo effort after he broke clear from a lineout just outside the Rebels’ 22.
Melbourne Rebels: J Woodward; T English, M Inman (C Vuna, 50), R Sidey, L Mitchell; B Hegarty (A Roberts, 72), L Burgess (N Stirzaker, 56); N Henderson (C Ah-Nau, 61), G Robinson (P Leafa, 61), L Weeks (P Alo-Emilie, 61), C Neville, H Pyle (L Jones, 41), J Saffy, S Fuglistaller, G Delve (capt) (J Reid, 56).
Lions: R Kearney (B Twelvetrees, 62); S Maitland, M Tuilagi, B Barritt, S Zebo; O Farrell (S Hogg, 52), C Murray (B Youngs, 62); R Grant (T Court, 55), R Hibbard (R Best, 55), D Cole (M Stevens, 55), R Gray, I Evans, D Lydiate (capt) (T Croft, 64), S O’Brien (J Tipuric, 55), T Faletau.