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Lions Continue On Winning Trail In Sydney

Lions Continue On Winning Trail In Sydney

Simon Zebo made his debut for the British & Irish Lions and Rob Kearney had a successful return from injury as the tourists emerged as 30-point winners over the NSW Waratahs in Sydney.

Michael Cheika’s Waratahs gave a very good account of themselves in front of a 40,805-strong crowd, but the Lions proved too strong with Leigh Halfpenny their scoring star – the Welsh full-back grabbed two tries and landed all eight of his place-kicks for a 30-point haul.

With the first Test against the Wallabies just a week away, Jonathan Sexton ran in the opening try and was very effective in getting the Lions’ outside backs involved particularly in the first half.

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Jamie Heaslip was a real workhorse at number 8, playing the full 80 minutes, while Simon Zebo also got a full game on the left wing as he slotted seamlessly into tour action.

Zebo almost crowned his Lions debut with a first-minute try, Sexton moving the ball wide for the Corkman to burst down the left wing but he was just denied by Drew Mitchell’s cover tackle in the corner.

Halfpenny booted the Lions in front soon after as he punished Rob Horne for dumping Tom Youngs illegally on halfway, and Warren Gatland’s men quickly added to their lead.

There were just six minutes on the clock when the work-hungry Zebo and Jonathan Davies linked on the left and the centre’s precise pass back inside sent the supporting Sexton over in the corner.

Halfpenny rammed over the difficult conversion for a 10-0 start and full-back Mitchell came to the Waratahs’ rescue once more when his ball-and-man tackle kept Jamie Roberts out.

But the NSW outfit, smothered in attack up to that point, answered back with a classy breakaway score on the quarter hour mark.

They took a quick lineout in their 22 while Sexton was down receiving treatment for a late hit by Will Skelton, and a Bernard Foley kick sat up nicely for Peter Betham to dart over halfway.

Sean Maitland failed to bring down the lively winger who drew in Halfpenny and passed for centre Tom Carter to finish it off in the left corner.

Scrum half McKibbin split the posts with the conversion for a 10-7 scoreline, with the Waratahs showing just how competitive they could be with the right kind of possession.

Paul O’Connell, a real general for the Lions up front, did superbly well to pilfer the ball on the restart, with his Munster colleague Zebo adding some zip to the attack with an angled run and offload to Halfpenny.

The full-back landed a subsequent penalty to steady the Lions who had a let-off when big Waratahs lock Skelton knocked on under pressure from Mike Phillips and Tom Croft as he drove over the try-line.

Cheika’s charges had gone for touch from a kickable lineout but they were foiled by some muscular defending from the tourists and with another O’Connell turnover launching the Lions forward, Halfpenny’s reliable boot soon made it 16-7.

Further encouragement came when Zebo soared to claim a high ball above Mitchell, allowing Phillips to launch a kick chase that had Waratahs captain Dave Dennis scrambling back to concede a five-metre scrum.

The hosts recovered well and clawed back three points as McKibbin kept his penalty effort just inside the right hand post, punishing Lions hooker Youngs for a ruck infringement.

Australian international Mitchell was coming more into it in an attacking sense, the full-back’s clever offload giving winger Cam Crawford the chance to have a cut on the right. However, the Lions defence again won the ruck battle, forcing a penalty to clear the danger.

The tourists hammered home their advantage closing in on half-time. In a great show of forward power, influential duo Heaslip and Alun Wyn Jones carried strongly as they set up ruck ball to the left of the Waratahs’ posts.

With space out wide on the right, some quick hands from O’Connell, Sexton and Davies transferred the ball across for Halfpenny to dot down in the corner. He converted the try himself to send the Lions in at the break with a 23-10 buffer.

The Six Nations Player of the Year completed his brace of tries just five minutes into the second half. The Lions kept possession in the forwards until a barnstorming back-line move saw Halfpenny time his run perfectly to touch down out wide.

The Waratahs were outfoxed by the tourists’ neat interplay and angles of running as Sexton took Phillips’ pass at pace and linked with Roberts whose centre partner Davies added further momentum to the move and offloaded for Halfpenny to supply the finish.

Back came the Waratahs immediately though, their forwards testing out the Lions defence at a lineout maul. Skelton took the ball on himself before Carter’s well-timed run saw him get the ball down despite the best efforts of Sexton and Heaslip.

Carter’s second try of the contest was converted by McKibbin to pull the deficit back to 13 points, and the Lions had some work to do in order to shake off their fired-up hosts.

But the Waratahs were unable to sustain their efforts over the remainder and with Gatland unloading a particularly strong bench, the result became a formality.

Alun Wyn Jones and Heaslip made the hard yards around the fringes, following a Roberts midfield charge, to set up Halfpenny’s fourth successful penalty.

The Lions lifted the tempo soon after as Davies intercepted a Foley pass, broke over halfway and flanker Tom Croft did the rest of the damage on the left wing, striding impressively through for a 55th minute try after an initial dummy and powerful hand-off of Tom Kingston.

Sexton and O’Connell were among the players called ashore around the midpoint of the half with the fit-again Rob Kearney – fully recovered from his hamstring tear – going in the opposite direction as he replaced Halfpenny for his first tour appearance.

Kearney saw some ball in attack in the final quarter, taking contact well and setting up rucks as the Lions tried to wear down what looked a tiring Waratahs defence.

Heaslip’s durability on the hard ground and poise in possession saw him stand out late on as he continually got over the gain-line, with captain Sam Warburton and Alun Wyn Jones also earning plaudits for their industry throughout.

Although the game was petering out, the excellent Davies deservedly got over for a 72nd minute try. Replacement scrum half Youngs, who had a sniping run moments earlier, put the Welsh centre clean through for a score converted by Owen Farrell, Sexton’s replacement.

The Waratahs came in search of a late consolation try but Zebo displayed his defensive grit as he got back to haul down replacement AJ Gilbert as he broke towards the posts. A final turnover from the Lions pack allowed scrum half Youngs to boot the ball dead.

The only real negative on the night for the Lions management was the hamstring injury picked up in the second half by Jamie Roberts, a likely starter alongside Brian O’Driscoll in midfield against Australia next Saturday.

Speaking afterwards, Warren Gatland said: “They put it up to us physically and I think the boys responded very well. I think that was a performance out of the top drawer.

“Defensively we were strong. We were coming off our line pretty good and set piece was excellent, the scrum was strong and the lineout was good.

“We showed a little bit tonight but not too much. I thought Alun-Wyn Jones was outstanding – he carried, defended really well, he was a real cog in the middle for us.”

TIME LINE: 4 minutes – British & Irish Lions penalty: Leigh Halfpenny – 0-3; 6 mins – British & Irish Lions try: Jonathan Sexton – 0-8; conversion: Leigh Halfpenny – 0-10; 14 mins – NSW Waratahs try: Tom Carter – 5-10; conversion: Brendan McKibbin – 7-10; 20 mins – British & Irish Lions penalty: Leigh Halfpenny – 7-13; 28 mins – British & Irish Lions penalty: Leigh Halfpenny – 7-16; 34 mins – NSW Waratahs penalty: Brendan McKibbin – 10-16; 40 mins – British & Irish Lions try: Leigh Halfpenny – 10-21; conversion: Leigh Halfpenny – 10-23; Half-time – NSW Waratahs 10 British & Irish Lions 23; 45 mins – British & Irish Lions try: Leigh Halfpenny – 10-28; conversion: Leigh Halfpenny – 10-30; 46 mins – NSW Waratahs try: Tom Carter – 15-30; conversion: Brendan McKibbin – 17-30; 52 mins – British & Irish Lions penalty: Leigh Halfpenny – 17-33; 55 mins – British & Irish Lions try: Tom Croft – 17-38; conversion: Leigh Halfpenny – 17-40; 72 mins – British & Irish Lions try: Jonathan Davies – 17-45; conversion: Owen Farrell – 17-47; Full-time – NSW Waratahs 17 British & Irish Lions 47

NSW WARATAHS: Drew Mitchell; Cam Crawford, Rob Horne, Tom Carter, Peter Betham; Bernard Foley, Brendan McKibbin; Jeremy Tilse, John Ulugia, Paddy Ryan, Will Skelton, Oliver Atkins, Jed Holloway, Pat McCutcheon, Dave Dennis (capt).

Replacements used: Tom Kingston for Carter (47 mins), Lopeti Timani for Holloway (49), AJ Gilbert for McCutcheon (56), Luke Holmes for Ulugi, Richard Aho for Tilse, Sam Talakai for Ryan, Ben Volavola for Betham, Matt Lucas for McKibbin (all 74).

BRITISH & LIONS: Leigh Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues/Wales); Sean Maitland (Glasgow Warriors/Scotland), Jonathan Davies (Scarlets/Wales), Jamie Roberts (Cardiff Blues/Wales), Simon Zebo (Munster/Ireland); Jonathan Sexton (Leinster/Ireland), Mike Phillips (Bayonne/Wales); Mako Vunipola (Saracens/England), Tom Youngs (Leicester Tigers/England), Adam Jones (Ospreys/Wales), Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys/Wales), Paul O’Connell (Munster/Ireland), Tom Croft (Leicester Tigers/England), Sam Warburton (Cardiff Blues/Wales) (capt), Jamie Heaslip (Leinster/Ireland).

Replacements used: Owen Farrell (Saracens/England) for Sexton (50 mins), Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers/England) for Phillips, Rob Kearney (Leinster/Ireland) for Halfpenny, Richard Hibbard (Ospreys/Wales) for T Youngs, Geoff Parling (Leicester Tigers/England) for O’Connell, Dan Lydiate (Newport Gwent Dragons/Wales) for Croft, Alex Corbisiero (London Irish/England) for Vunipola, Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers/England) for Adam Jones (all 60).

Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)