The British and Irish Lions head into the second Test against Australia with a head full of steam after subjecting the Melbourne Rebels to a 35-0 thrashing in their tour match yesterday.
Eager to impress coach Warren Gatland in their last non-Test tour match, the midweek Lions ran in four tries and were awarded a fifth by penalty as they completely outclassed the Super Rugby strugglers at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium.
England center Manu Tuilagi celebrated his return to action after a niggling shoulder injury by contributing to the first two tries for the Lions for scrumhalf Conor Murray and winger Sean Maitland.
Openside flanker Sean O’Brien and replacement scrumhalf Ben Youngs crossed after the break as the Dan Lydiate-captained Lions dominated on all fronts.
The tourists suffered a shock loss to a well-drilled Brumbies last week, with their set-pieces a mess, but their forwards made amends against the Rebels, setting up scoring chances with sharp work at the lineout.
“We definitely had to up our game coming here, we wanted to get the result and keep the momentum going for the weekend,” said Lydiate, a replacement for the Brisbane Test last weekend. “It’s a massive game for us this weekend and some of the boys put their hands up for selection tonight. The main thing was to get the win, but also play well as a team and play well as individuals... All credit to the Rebels guys, they gave us a good game tonight.”
Tuilagi drove the Lions forward with a jinking run to set up their first try in the 15th minute, scrumhalf Conor Murray swooping on a loose ball from the resulting 5m scrum, before spinning over in the right corner.
The barnstorming center was even more involved in the second try with another powerful break, a fend and an offload helping Toby Faletau take the tourists to the Rebels’ line. Inside center Brad Barritt played scrumhalf at the breakdown to get the ball to Simon Zebo, who flung it wider still to winger Maitland for an easy try in the right corner.
The Rebels, captained by former Wales back-rower Gareth Delve and marshaled by former Wallaby scrumhalf Luke Burgess, pressed hard, but were let down by poor finishing.
Fullback Jason Woodward missed a penalty kick from straight in front and the Rebels waved away another three points by kicking for the corner, only to botch the lineout a minute before the break.
Although dictating proceedings, the Lions “dirt-trackers” made a hash of a few scoring chances and O’Brien was left fuming a few minutes after halftime when a long looping pass from Maitland sailed into touch to deny the Irishman a certain try.
O’Brien was all smiles a few minutes later, though, when he dived over to score in the opposite corner after lock Richie Gray and Lydiate had combined well from the lineout.
The Rebels, reduced to something of a rabble after a raft of substitutions, conceded a penalty try 10 minutes later, with replacement flanker Jordy Reid sent off for illegally stopping a rolling maul.
Youngs completed the rout by sharking the ball at the back of a lineout and beating two defenders to cross between the posts, handing the Lions the momentum heading into Saturday’s second Test against the Wallabies.
“Disappointing,” Delve said. “We wanted to try a few things, but we never really got the stability at the set-piece that we wanted and a quality team like that, they ran a few points up on us.”