The British & Irish Lions defeated the Melbourne Rebels 35-0 at AAMI Park in Melbourne on Tuesday night in the perfect preparation for the second Test at Etihad Stadium this Saturday night.
Playing in front of 28,658 fans, the Rebels showed they would not be intimidated by their international opponents, matching the visitors in both physicality and intensity in fine conditions at their home ground.
The Lions kicked off and the Rebels immediately found themselves under heavy defensive pressure as they looked for touch.
The teams traded opportunities in the early stages, with the Lions the first side with an attacking chance.
The tourists looked certain to score as flyhalf Owen Farrell attempted to put Ian Evans into space, but a wayward pass turned over possession in the Rebels’ 22.
It was then the Rebels’ turn to attack and they phased well, shifting the ball wide and gaining metres through right wing Tom English. The Rebels set themselves up in the Lions’ half but openside Sean O’Brien was able to force the turnover.
The Rebels showed in the opening exchanges they had done their homework when it came to the lineout, twice stealing the ball on the Lions’ throw.
The home side also defended fiercely, withstanding several waves of attack within their half, but were forced to concede a five-metre scrum when a deft grubber kick was sent behind their defensive line and grounded in goal.
The deadlock broke in the ensuing scrum, when the Lions’ pack pushed within an inch of the Rebels try line. Number 8 Toby Faletau had the first attempt at crossing the chalk but was stopped short, only for the ball to pop out fortuitously for Lions scrumhalf Conor Murray, who dove over for the first points.
Flyhalf Owen Farrell added the extra two points and the Lions led 7-0 after 15 minutes.
The Rebels had a chance to close the gap in the 26th minute, with the Lions penalised at the breakdown, but Jason Woodward’s penalty goal attempt from 38 metres out in front was just wide to the right.
The Lions struck almost immediately, with returning centre Manu Tuilagi breaking down the left flank before sending a brilliant offload in contact to winger Sean Maitland, who moved into the Rebels’ 22 before shifting it to Faletau, who was brought down just short of the try line.
The Lions got quick ball from the breakdown and Simon Zebo moved it quickly to Maitland who touched down on the right-hand side. Farrell kicked a difficult conversion to take the Lions to 14-0 after 27 minutes.
The Rebels looked as if they may close the gap again in the late stages of the half as they began winning their collisions and driving the ball downfield. A break by outside centre Mitch Inman brought the home fans to their feet as the Rebels maintained possession and kept the pressure on.
An infringement at the breakdown gifted the Rebels a penalty five metres from the Lions’ try line and the home side kicked for touch, only to have the ball turned over on the resulting lineout.
The Lions managed to hold the Rebels out for the remainder of the half, to enter the break 14-0.
The Rebels had the first crack of the second half, holding the ball for almost three minutes, but were unable to create any real threat to the try line.
Lions scrumhalf Murray eventually forced a penalty on halfway and Farrell kicked his team out of trouble, setting up an attacking lineout on the Rebels five metre line.
Against almost impossible forward momentum, Rebels Welsh import and captain Gareth Delve worked his way through the middle of the Lions’ rolling maul, forcing a turnover to remove the threat.
The Lions continued to refuse to kick for post, with a penalty in the 49th minute providing them with another five-metre lineout opportunity courtesy of Farrell’s boot.
The persistence paid off as the Lions brought the ball down at the front of the lineout and gave it to openside O’Brien to walk over the line in the right corner.
Farrell hit another difficult shot at goal from the sideline to take his side to 21-0 after 51 minutes. The English flyhalf was replaced shortly after by Scottish utility Stuart Hogg.
Rebels replacement Luke Jones gave the home fans reason for applause in the 55th minute as he broke downfield, making 30 metres before being brought down by the Lions defence.
The Rebels continued to probe, but the Lions defence was up to the task and another opportunity for the home side was shut down.
Breakdown infringements began creeping into the Rebels’ defence late in the second half and the Lions continued to kick for touch, setting up yet another five metre lineout and a driving maul.
The Lions looked certain to push over for another try, but Rebels replacement Jordy Reid had other ideas. In his attempt to stop the maul, he was called offside and the Lions were awarded a penalty try, with Reid handed a yellow card for his efforts.
Replacement flyhalf Hogg slotted the easy conversion and the Lions led 28-0 with less than 20 minutes to play.
The Rebels showed they still had life in them when in the 69th minute they withstood an onslaught of attack on their try line before turning the ball over to allow young scrumhalf replacement Nic Stirzaker to break down field.
The whippy scrumhalf sent a grubber for his supporting winger but it was kicked into touch by the Lions’ cover defence.
The Rebels threw to the front of the ensuing lineout and Cruze An-Nau broke away to score a try that sent the home crowd into raptures, but the play was called back for an incorrect throw into the lineout.
Again the Lions withstood the Rebels advances and found themselves presented with yet another attacking opportunity in the Rebels 22.
The following lineout saw replacement scrumhalf Ben Youngs cross the line following a brilliant individual effort, beating three defenders. Hogg kicked the extras and the Lions led 35-0 with less than 10 minutes remaining.
The Rebels had a late surge of possession, with the Lions twice penalised inside their own half.
The second penalty, awarded after full time, saw Strizaker take a quick tap and shift the ball to Cooper Vuna, but the replacement winger was bundled into touch five metres from the Lions try line to bring the game to a close.
DHL AUSTRALIA 2013 LIONS TOUR
FULL TIME SCORE
British & Irish Lions 35 (Conor Murray, Sean Maitland, Sean O’Brien, Penalty Try, Ben Youngs tries; Owen Farrell 3, Stuart Hogg 2 conversions) defeated Melbourne Rebels 0 at AAMI Park in Melbourne. (Crowd: 28,658)