Melbourne Rebels 0 British and Irish Lions 35
The midweek British & Irish Lions atoned for their defeat to the Brumbies a week ago with a convincing tour victory over the Rebels at Melbourne's AAMI Park today.
An uncohesive Lions XV had got the first-Test week off to a less than inspiring start in Canberra seven days ago with a lacklustre performance in a 14-12 loss but a stronger line-up made amends with a five-try whitewash of this Super Rugby side in front of 29,500 spectators, scrum-half Conor Murray starting the ball rolling with the opening try and wing Sean Maitland adding a second before half-time before flanker Sean O'Brien, a penalty try and Murray's replacement Ben Youngs finished the Rebels off after the break in a dominant team performance.
With second-Test places to play for across the city at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday, on the bench at least, the Lions opened brightly against a side shorn of Wallabies backs James O'Connor, Kurtley Beale and Nick Phipps as well as the injured back row Soctt Higginbotham but otherwise at full strength.
The only blackspot early on, yet again, was the lineout. A week on from hooker Rory Best's nightmare in Canberra, Richard Hibbard caught the bug, which was more than his jumpers managed on the first two throws before four minutes were up.
Nevertheless, they were early teething problems, the Rebels have the majority of trouble containing an eager Lions side who went through the phases in patient build-up play and with good shape.
The first real look at the Rebels' try-line came on the quarter-hour as centre Brad Barritt broke down the right and nudged a grubber kick for wing Sean Maitland to chase, Melbourne full-back Jason Woodward saving the day by toughing down anmd conceding a five-metre try from which the Lions would score.
The pack, given a penalty advantage at the put-in by referee Glen Jackson drove towards the line with Munster and Ireland scrum-half Conor Murray picking the ball off the back and diving over for his second try of the tour, Owen Farrell converting from the right touchline to put the tourists 14-0 up.
The Rebels had a chance to get on the scoreboard five minutes later as Sean O'Brien was penalised at a breakdown in front of the posts but Woodward's penalty from the Lions' 10m line strayed right and for the rest of the opening period the home side were on the back foot.
Maitland was next on the scoresheet, starting a wonderful move in his own half down the left and finishing it in the right corner as Manu Tuilagi, making his first appearance since the third game of the tour, when he picked up a shoulder nerve injury against the Queensland Reds, took the ball into the Rebels' half and passed inside to the Scottish wing. Mailtand took it on again and offloaded to Toby Faletau, the No.8 heading for the posts only to slip five metres out. Yet the Lions had their tails up and would not be denied, Murray getting quick ball from the breakdown and feeding Simon Zebo who sent a strong skip pass along the line, received by the overlapping Maitland to score. Farrell again converted fromt he right touchline to send the Lions in at the break 14-0 to the good.
It was more of the same after the break as Warren Gatland's side reassumed control, putting together more patient, sustained phase play, with O'Brien getting the try. Again it was scored in the right corner and Farrell was once more accurate with the touchline conversion as the Lions went 21-0 up 10 minutes into the second half.
The dominance continued as the Lions forwards piled on the pressure, the Rebels' substitute back rower Jordy Reid pulling down a maul in frustration as referee Jackson awarded a penalty try and sent the offender to the sin bin. Hogg, on for Farrell, emulated the starting fly-half with a conversion from the right touchline and there was more to come.
Best, on in the 55th minute and ssuming the captaincy when Dan Lydiate was replaced by Tom Croft 11 minutes later, will have been delighted that the Lions' fifth try came from solid lineout ball, the newly introduced back rower collecting and substitute scrum-half Ben Youngs making a dart for the line to score under the posts.
MELBOURNE REBELS: J Woodward; T English, M Inman (C Vuna, 51), R Sidey, L Mitchell; B Hegarty (A Roberts, 72), L Burgess (N Stirzaker, 55); N Henderson (C Ah Nau, 60), G Robinson (P Leafa, 60), L Weeks (P Alo-Emile, 60), C Neville, H Pyle (L Jones, h-t), J Saffy, S Fuglistaller, G Delve – captain (J Reid, 55).
Yellow card: Reid 63-73
BRITISH & IRISH LIONS: R Kearney (B Twelvetrees, 62); S Maitland, M Tuilagi, B Barritt (B Twelvetrees, 31-40), S Zebo; O Farrell (S Hogg, 51), C Murray (B Youngs, 64); R Grant (T Court, 55), R Hibbard (R Best, 55), D Cole (M Stevens, 55); R Gray, I Evans; D Lydiate – captain (T Croft, 66), S O’Brien (J Tipuric, 55), T Faletau.
REFEREE: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)