A last-minute try from Jonathan Davies, set up by captain for the night Brian O’Driscoll, put the seal on a routine victory for the British & Irish Lions against their latest opponents on tour Down Under.
The Combined Country side was put to the sword by the Lions who ran in ten tries in dewy conditions at Hunter Stadium, with winger George North grabbing a first half brace.
Irish trio Conor Murray, Brian O’Driscoll and Sean O’Brien all touched down as did Alex Cuthbert, Stuart Hogg, Richard Hibbard and replacements Leigh Halfpenny and Jonathan Davies.
Hogg slotted in at out-half and looked the part albeit against limited opposition whose defending was poor at times, particularly in the opening 40 minutes as the Lions cantered into a 38-0 interval lead.
The NSW-QLD outfit, who only had a few training sessions together, improved in the second half and replacement Dale Ahwang went close to breaking their scoring duck.
They also tightened up in defence to thwart a number of try-scoring opportunities, including one where O’Driscoll was nudged into touch before he dotted down in the left corner.
But O’Driscoll, given the full 80 minutes by head coach Warren Gatland, made sure the Lions beat their nine-try haul from the Western Force game as his grubber kick teed up centre partner Davies for the closing score.
Scottish duo Hogg and Sean Maitland, switching positions to out-half and full-back, were immediately involved with a well-struck clearance kick and a fine high catch respectively.
Jamie Heaslip, controlling at the base of a dominant scrum, and O’Brien also got their hands on the ball early on with scrum half Murray also blocking an attempted clearance from his opposite number Mick Snowden.
The try-scoring sequence began in the eighth minute as the Lions worked an overlap on the right with O’Driscoll sending big winger Cuthert over in the corner.
Hogg landed an impressive conversion and then swiftly added the extras to Murray’s effort, the scrum half finishing off some lovely link-up play in which Justin Tipuric, Ian Evans and Hogg were all prominent.
The Lions had a third try by the quarter hour mark as they launched forward from a lineout and the lively Tipuric passed for Hogg to blast through a wide open midfield channel and score to the left of the posts.
The hosts enjoyed a spell of pressure near the Lions whitewash after Maitland was charged down, but the Scottish international soon played his part in a brilliant breakout score.
O’Driscoll and Heaslip used turnover ball to send North speeding away from deep. The supporting Maitland was caught by Country winger Alex Gibbon but managed to get a return pass away for North to finish comfortably.
Hogg sent over his third conversion and turnovers continued to prove costly for the Combined Country, with the Lions forwards getting involved in the scoring from a close-in lineout.
A maul was worked from the set piece and hooker Hibbard slipped off the left side for try number five, Hogg’s conversion making it 33-0.
North added his second try seven minutes before the break, the Lions using Jamie Roberts as a decoy runner and a string of quick passes released the Welsh winger for the left corner.
The centre partnership of O’Driscoll and Roberts – one of the lasting positives from the 2009 tour to South Africa – was beginning to click again, and O’Brien was just denied by a foot in touch after muscling his way past two players near the right touchline.
Six tries off 68% possession in the opening half would have pleased the Lions management, although there were areas for improvement including the lineout.
A number of handling errors spoiled the Lions’ chances of scoring early in the second period, before their powerful scrum and maul got them back into scoring range.
After Heaslip had a couple of cuts from close-in rucks, the Lions sucked in the defence sufficiently for a simple finish for O’Driscoll out wide on the right.
The half-century was chalked up by the hour mark with Roberts getting over the gain-line and Halfpenny taking an excellent line onto a delayed Hogg pass to scythe through for a peach of a try.
Halfpenny, having missed the conversion of O’Driscoll’s touchdown, slotted the extras this time but some supremely committed defending from the Australians halted the Lions’ try-scoring drive.
A series of knock ons also ruined promising situations for the tourists who brought on a new front row and the bench was emptied by the 69th minute
Good hands from Maitland, a real feature of his game here, almost set up the next Lions score – again the hosts showed well in defence to thwart Halfpenny and Murray.
With 14 remaining, O’Brien crashed over for a deserved try as he barged past replacement Shaun McCarthy, the former Wicklow and St. Mary’s College man, and scored to the right of the posts.
There were a couple of near misses for the Lions as Ahwang was inches away from scoring – a try would have been ruled out anyway for an earlier knock on – and Halfpenny had his blushes spared as Maitland mopped up at he end of a Country kick chase.
Some may have expected O’Driscoll to be called ashore but the Dubliner was clearly enjoying it out there, showing huge commitment to the cause despite the one-sided nature of the contest.
One such example came when he hacked through as the Lions broke out of their half and although the loose ball eventually went dead, O’Driscoll was the first player on the scene as he desperately tried to kick it back infield for replacement Davies.
The 2005 Lions skipper was left frustrated by a foot in touch as he lunched for the try-line in the closing stages, but the Lions’ late push for try number 10 was rewarded right at the death. O’Driscoll right-footed through for Davies to dot down and Halfpenny’s third successful conversion made it a 64-point winning margin.
TIME LINE: 8 minutes – British & Irish Lions try: Alex Cuthbert – 0-5; conversion: Stuart Hogg – 0-7; 10 mins – British & Irish Lions try: Conor Murray – 0-12; conversion: Stuart Hogg – 0-14; 12 mins – British & Irish Lions try: Stuart Hogg – 0-19; conversion: missed by Stuart Hogg – 0-19; 20 mins – British & Irish Lions try: George North – 0-24; conversion: Stuart Hogg – 0-26; 27 mins – British & Irish Lions try: Richard Hibbard – 0-31; conversion: Stuart Hogg – 0-33; 33 mins – British & Irish Lions try: George North – 0-38; conversion: missed by Stuart Hogg – 0-38; Half-time – Combined Country 0 British & Irish Lions 38; 50 mins – British & Irish Lions try: Brian O’Driscoll – 0-43; conversion: missed by Leigh Halfpenny – 0-43; 56 mins – British & Irish Lions try: Leigh Halfpenny – 0-48; conversion: Leigh Halfpenny – 0-50; 66 mins – British & Irish Lions try: Sean O’Brien – 0-55; conversion: Leigh Halfpenny – 0-57; 80 mins – British & Irish Lions try: Jonathan Davies – 0-62; conversion: Leigh Halfpenny – 0-64; Full-time – Combined Country 0 British & Irish Lions 64
COMBINED NSW-QLD COUNTRY: Nathan Trist (Sydney University); Alex Gibbon (Southern Districts, Sydney), Lewie Catt (NSW Country), Tareta-Junior Siakisini (QLD Country), Tom Cox (Brumbies); Angus Roberts (Melbourne Rebels), Michael Snowden (Western Force); Haydn Hirsimaki (QLD Country), Josh Mann-Rae (Brumbies), Tim Metcher (Southern Districts, Sydney), Phoenix Battye (Western Force), Blake Enever (Queensland Reds), Richard Stanford (Eastern Suburbs, Sydney), Jarrad Butler (Queensland Reds), Tim Davidson (Melbourne Rebels) (capt).
Replacements used: Trent Dyer (Melbourne Rebels) for Stanford (53 mins), Dylan Evans (NSW Country) for Hirsimaki (54), Shaun McCarthy (QLD Country) for Cox (57), Tom Kearney (QLD Country) for Mann-Rae, Dale Ahwang (QLD Country) for Catt (both 62), Rikki Abraham (QLD Country) for Metcher (69), Adam McCormack (NSW Country) for Snowden, Rory Arnold (QLD Country) for Battye (both 73).
BRITISH & IRISH LIONS: Sean Maitland (Glasgow Warriors/Scotland); Alex Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues/Wales), Brian O’Driscoll (Leinster/Ireland) (capt), Jamie Roberts (Cardiff Blues/Wales), George North (Scarlets/Wales); Stuart Hogg (Glasgow Warriors/Scotland), Conor Murray (Munster/Ireland); Alex Corbisiero (London Irish/England), Richard Hibbard (Ospreys/Wales), Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers/England), Richie Gray (Scotland), Ian Evans (Ospreys/Wales), Sean O’Brien (Leinster/Ireland), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys/Wales), Jamie Heaslip (Leinster/Ireland).
Replacements used: Leigh Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues/Wales) for North, Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys/Wales) for Gray (both half-time), Ryan Grant (Glasgow Warriors/Scotland) for Corbisiero, Rory Best (Ulster/Ireland) for Hibbard, Matt Stevens (Saracens/England) for Cole (all 51 mins), Toby Faletau (Newport Gwent Dragons/Wales) for Heaslip (54), Jonathan Davies (Scarlets/Wales) for Roberts (57), Mike Phillips (Bayonne/Wales) for Murray (69).
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)