By Sarah Mockford at AAMI Stadium in Melbourne
In a nutshell
There was something of a subdued atmosphere here despite the vast swathes of red in the crowd – minds already on the weekend perhaps – but the Lions wrapped up a five-try victory over the Rebels. They improved on their patchy first-half performance in the second period and the upper hand they gained up front was impressive. Sean Maitland’s try was a superb team score, as good a touchdown as the Lions have produced all tour, but they played in fits and starts. The Rebels had a few scoring opportunities but lacked the clinical edge to cross the whitewash – the Lions fierce defence not aiding their cause. The Lions will be pleased to move on to the second Test with another win – and a clean sheet – in their locker.
The Lions’ assertive forward effort in the 47th minute. They drove the Rebels back ferociously at a scrum ten metres from the line and while the hosts kept possession, Owen Farrell was able to put pressure on fly-half Bryce Hegarty as he tried to clear. The Rebels No 10 could only find touch five metres from his own line and the Lions had another chance to attack. This dented the Rebels’ spirit and the Lions pretty much dominated from then on in.
Star man – Sean O’Brien
The Ireland flanker did his very best to play himself into the Lions’ Test 23. Ten tackles, two turnovers and a try – not bad for a 55-minute shift. He carried effectively, always drawing in defenders, popped up well in support, linked well and was solid in defence. He has certainly put pressure on Dan Lydiate, who had back-row bench spot for first Test, and his ability to cover all three back-row positions is a bonus. We’ll find out if Warren Gatland & Co agree on Thursday.
Test watch – Hot
Manu Tuilagi – The centre showed no signs of his injury as he put in a dominant show in midfield. Not only was he as destructive a ball-carrier as ever, his lay-off making him even hungrier to inflict damage, but he also showed some lovely touches too. Passing was a more common option for him and it looks like he’s improved on his distribution considerably. Plus, he played a vital role in Sean Maitland’s try. He could have earned himself a place on the bench in place of the try-scorer on Saturday – a great weapon to bring on after 60-odd minutes.
Front row – Richard Hibbard and Dan Cole didn’t have an enjoyable time when coming off the bench on Saturday, but they put in a dominant display here. They, along with Ryan Grant, mangled the Rebels scrum and that advantage up front gave the backs a perfect platform. It will also give those picked on the bench on Saturday confidence.
The Lions made 538 metres to the Rebels’ 344 and eight clean breaks to three. Dan Lydiate was the Lions’ top tackler with 15, closely followed by Toby Faletau with 13.
Lions – Tries: Murray, Maitland, O’Brien, Penalty, Youngs. Cons: Farrell 3, Hogg 2.