Four Ireland players were among the scorers as the British & Irish Lions crossed the whitewash nine times in an impressive 69-17 dismissal of a committed Western Force team at Patersons Stadium.
2013 BRITISH & IRISH LIONS TOUR: Wednesday, June 5
WESTERN FORCE 17 BRITISH & IRISH LIONS 69, Patersons Stadium (Att: 35,103)
Scorers: Western Force: Tries: Richard Brown, Lachlan McCaffrey; Cons: Brett Sheehan 2; Pen: Brett Sheehan
British & Irish Lions Lions: Tries: Jonathan Sexton, Brian O’Driscoll 2, Tom Croft, Jamie Heaslip, Mako Vunipola, Tommy Bowe, Owen Farrell, Geoff Parling; Cons: Leigh Halfpenny 9; Pens: Leigh Halfpenny 2
The Lions’ opening win on Australian soil was marred somewhat by an ankle injury picked up by Cian Healy in the first half, although initial word from the Lions camp suggests it is a sprain. The Ireland prop has gone to hospital for an X-ray.
Brian O’Driscoll marked his captaincy of the Lions with a try in each half, while Jonathan Sexton, Tommy Bowe and the excellent Jamie Heaslip also touched down for Warren Gatland’s men with Heaslip’s back row colleague Sean O’Brien arguably the game’s stand-out performer.
Welsh goal-kicking ace Leigh Halfpenny also put down a marker by splitting the posts from all angles as he landed 11 kicks from 11 attempts for a 24-point personal haul.
The Lions’ other try scorers were Tom Croft and replacements Mako Vunipola, Owen Farrell and Geoff Parling, however the manner in which the tourists leaked three tries to the Force will be a concern.
With a Super Rugby clash with NSW Waratahs to come on Sunday, Western Force fielded a weakened team for the historic visit of the Lions and the O’Driscoll-led visitors, packed full of players eager to impress, looked sharp right from the off.
A wrap around move in the Lions midfield sent Bowe surging through from deep, with the winger finding his Ireland team-mate Heaslip up in support.
That early promise led to a pinpoint fourth minute penalty from full-back Halfpenny, with the Force struggling to find their feet in the initial set pieces.
The destructive Manu Tuilagi made headway with each touch and with half-backs Conor Murray and Sexton putting width on the ball, the Lions quickly seized their opportunity.
George North was brought down on the left, but the Lions profited from quick ruck ball and Sexton dummied his way past Richard Brown on a diagonal 11th minute run in behind the posts.
Halfpenny converted and from an Irish viewpoint, Heaslip was particularly prominent in the first quarter with some strong carries off the side of rucks and intelligent link-up play.
Brett Sheehan, the talkative former Wallaby scrum half, did his best to rattle the Lions and the Force did well to keep out Tuilagi after a neat link-up between Sexton and Bowe.
The hosts were camped in their 22 until a Rory Best lineout throw went over the top and their captain Matt Hodgson’s kick downfield was retrieved by speedy winger Corey Brown.
The Force were let down by a loose lineout of their own after going for touch from successive penalties, and the errors increased for both sides as the first half lulled along.
Scoring chances were few and far between, the Lions lacking territory and just past the half hour mark Sheehan converted a penalty to get the Australian outfit off the mark.
But the Lions responded almost immediately, quick hands from the busy O’Brien and O’Driscoll finding North on the left touchline and he passed back out of the tackle for O’Driscoll to dive over in the corner.
Halfpenny swung over an excellent conversion from wide out, and Heaslip barged downfield from the restart as the Lions started to get over the gain-line with regularity.
However, their momentum was halted by the lengthy injury stoppage for Healy who went over on his left ankle after being tackled by Force flanker Angus Cottrell.
The Ireland prop was stretchered off and replaced by Mako Vunipola and when play resumed, a well-struck penalty from Halfpenny added to the Lions’ lead.
The tourists kept their foot on the gas as half-time approached, O’Driscoll being held up before the increasingly influential O’Brien passed wide for Alun Wyn Jones to send English flanker Croft over in the left corner.
Halfpenny maintained his high kicking standards with a terrific conversion, leaving Western Force 27-3 adrift at the break.
The Lions certainly meant business on the resumption, Heaslip and Vunipola carrying with great intent before Sexton lofted a long pass out for Heaslip to go over unchallenged out wide.
Another crisply hit conversion from Halfpenny split the posts from the right, however some sloppy play allowed the Force to hit back as number 8 Brown muscled over from close range.
Sheehan added the extras, although the Force were soon back behind their try-line as North and Heaslip led a powerful Lions assault and Vunipola crashed over in the right corner.
Halfpenny kept up his outstanding form from the kicking tee and more Lions tries looked on the cards when Force centre Ed Stubbs earned a yellow card for blatantly killing the ball near his try-line.
Barely a minute later, Bowe added his name to the scoresheet as he finished neatly on the right off an 8-9 move from a central scrum. The extras were supplied by Halfpenny for a 41-10 scoreline.
Into the final quarter, the Force showed admirable resilience as they hit back with a seven-pointer – Sexton was unable to prevent fired-up replacement Lachlan McCaffrey from touching down under the posts, and Sheehan tagged on the conversion.
The Force had their moments in the closing stages but with reinforcements on, the Lions were able to hold their defensive line intact and build for a late run of tries.
They cancelled out McCaffrey’s effort with O’Driscoll’s second of the night, the wily centre popping up on Tuilagi’s right shoulder after the youngster had bulldozed his way through the middle.
Farrell, who came on for Sexton, dummied his way through for a well-executed 67th-minute try and although Jones saw yellow during a concerted spell of defending, fellow second row Parling collected an inside pass from O’Brien to run in the Lions’ ninth and final try.
Giving his reaction to his tries and the overall performance afterwards, O’Driscoll said: “It’s always nice to get on the end of good moves. I’ve George and Manu to thank for some nice offloads.
“We’re relatively pleased with the performance. There’s plenty to work on, particularly in defence, but we scored some good tries.
“We have to continue building. They boys set a good standard in Hong Kong and we need to keep moving it forward because we know what tests lay ahead for us with the Wallabies. There were great aspects to the game, but plenty to work on.”
WESTERN FORCE: Sam Christie; Dane Haylett-Petty, Ed Stubbs, Chris Tuatara-Morrison, Corey Brown; Sam Norton-Knight, Brett Sheehan; Salesi Manu, James Hilterbrand, Salesi Ma’afu, Toby Lynn, Phoenix Battye, Angus Cottrell, Matt Hodgson (capt), Richard Brown.
Replacements used: Sione Kolo for Ma’afu (50 mins), Lachlan McCaffrey for Cottrell (54), Nick Haining for C Brown (62), Ben Matwijow for Lynn (66), Alby Mathewson for Sheehan, Junior Rasolea for Haylett-Petty (both 72), Tim Metcher for Manu (78), Hugh Roach for Hilterbrand (79).
BRITISH & IRISH LIONS: Leigh Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues/Wales); Tommy Bowe (Ulster/Ireland), Brian O’Driscoll (Leinster/Ireland) (capt), Manu Tuilagi (Leicester Tigers/England), George North (Scarlets/Wales); Jonathan Sexton (Leinster/Ireland), Conor Murray (Munster/Ireland); Cian Healy (Leinster/Ireland), Rory Best (Ulster/Ireland), Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers/England), Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys/Wales), Ian Evans (Ospreys/Wales), Tom Croft (Leicester Tigers/England), Sean O’Brien (Leinster/Ireland), Jamie Heaslip (Leinster/Ireland).
Replacements used: Mako Vunipola (Saracens/England) for Healy (37 mins), Tom Youngs (Leicester Tigers/England) for Best, Geoff Parling (Leicester Tigers/England) for Evans (both 60), Owen Farrell (Saracens/England) for Sexton, Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers/England) for Murray (both 66), Matt Stevens (Saracens/England) for Cole (68), Toby Faletau (Newport Gwent Dragons/Wales) for Croft (72), Sean Maitland (Glasgow Warriors/Scotland) for Bowe (77).
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)