NSW Waratahs 17 B&I Lions 47
By Simon Lewis, Sydney
Any positive thoughts for Lions head coach Warren Gatland after this impressive victory at the Allianz Stadium today will have been tempered by a worrying second-half injury to centre Jamie Roberts.
The Lions answered all the questions asked of them in Sydney today as the withstood an intensely physical Waratahs effort to outscore the home side five tries to two with full-back Leigh Halfpenny scroing two of those and kicking four conversions and four penalties in a record 30-point haul in a Lions jersey.
Simon Zebo almost had the dream start to his Lions debut, collecting the ball on the left wing and darting into the corner in just 36 seconds, only for the replays to show that the covering tackle by Waratahs full-back Drew Mitchell had sent the Irishman's foot into touch, the TMO decreeing “No Try”.
The decision did little curb the Munster wing's enthusias though and in a very impressive first half he proved a livewire for the Lions, often cutting in off the flank and appearing at first receiver.
Zebo had a hand in the Lions' opening try after six minutes as the tourists, leading 3-0 from a long-range Leigh Halfpenny penalty three minutes earlier, countered from a long kick into midfield. Halfpenny had chaged down a Mitchell clearance, forcing the Waratahs to clear again with hurried kick and back came the Lions, Sexton feeding Zebo, who showed a dynamic change of pace, carried upfield and passed to centre Jon Davies. Davies broke down the left and passed inside back to Sexton, who was rewarded for his support running with free pass over the try line.
Halfpenny converted to put the Lions 10-0 up just six minutes into the game but when the Waratahs joined the party they did so in style with a Tom Carter try down the left after wing Peter Betham made the best of a wayward Bernard Foley crossfield kick. Betham eased through a Sean Maitland missed tackle and then passed to Carter 22 metres out and the centre grabbed five points, scrum-half Brendan McKibbin slotting the conversion from the touchline.
Halfpenny grabbed two penalties to McKibbin's one before the Lions full-back ended the half with a tryas the tourists used great width from left to right, the Welshman continuing his great kciking form by converting his own try and send his team in 23-10 to the good.
The Waratahs started the second half brightly but it was the Lions and Halfpenny who made the first major impression, the full-back showing great time to break the home side's defensive line after great work in midfield by his Welsh compatriots Jamie Roberts and Jon Davies. Another conversion and the Lions had a 20-point lead at 30-10 but straight from the restart the Waratahs hit back, again from a close-range lineout after Zebo had misjudged the bounce of the ball and was penalised for not releasing.
Skelton was involved again, peeling off a maul and offloading for Carter to crash over, McKibben adding the extras.
On a day when Bob Dwyer, the former Australia World Cup-winning coach, labelled Warren Gatland’s squad as “cheats”, accusing the Lions in the Australian newspaper of “dodgy practices” at scrums, rucks and restarts, it was the Waratahs who were keeping referee Jaco Peyper busy.
Michael Cheika's side were guilty of numerous off the ball and late hits, hooker John Ulugia's act of taking out Zebo in the 53rd minute proving counter-productive as it relieved the pressure his side had been mounting on the Lions.
Gatland's players had the game wrapped up as Sexton made way for Owen Farrell and they added another try when Jon Davies jumped out of the line and intercepted slow Waratahs ball from McKibbin.
The Lions ball was much, much quicker and moved out wide at pace where Tom Croft collected, fended off substitute back Tom Kingston and ran in for a try, the Waratahs' indiscipline evident again as the English back-row was shoulder charged after he touched down.
Halfpenny converted to rack up his 30th point of the evening, having already surpassed Ronan O'Gara's record for 26 points scored by a Lion in Australia.
Gatland cleared the rest of his bench on the hour but eight minutes later saw Roberts hobble off with an apprant hamsting injury, a major concern as he disappeared down the tunnel, only partially alleviated when midfield partner Davies cut through a tired defence for the fifth try of the night`, this time Farrell converting with Halfpenny off the field.
There was time for one late Waratahs rally, AJ Gilbert breaking upfield with the home support in the 40,805 crowd already celebrating as Zebo produced a try-saving tackle, the last significant act of the game.
NSW WARATAHS: D Mitchell; C Crawford, R Horne, T Carter (T Kingston, 47), P Betham; B Foley, B McKibbin; J Tilse (R Aho, 75), J Ulugia (L Holmes, 75), P Ryan (S Talakai, 75); W Skelton, O Atkins; J Holloway, P McCutcheon, D Dennis – captain.
BRITISH & IRISH LIONS: L Halfpenny (R Kearney, 60); S Maitland, J Davies, J Roberts, S Zebo; J Sexton (O Farrell, 47), M Phillips (B Youngs, 60); M Vunipola (A Corbisiero, 60), T Youngs (R Hibbard, 60), A Jones (D Cole, 60); A W Jones, P O’Connell (G Parling, 60); T Croft (D Lydiate, 60), S Warburton – captain, J Heaslip.
REFEREE: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)