Lions Rout Force in Australia Opener; Healy Faces Tour Exit
The British and Irish Lions routed an understrength Western Force 69-17 in the first of five games in Australia before facing the Wallabies in a Test series. Prop Cian Healy may leave the tour after he was cited for allegedly biting an opponent and also got injured.
The Lions, who beat the Barbarians 59-8 in Hong Kong last weekend, outscored the Force by nine tries to two at Patersons Stadium in Perth, with captain Brian O’Driscoll touching down in each half. Full-back Leigh Halfpenny had a perfect goal-kicking game last night with nine conversions and two penalties.
“We’re relatively pleased with the performance,” O’Driscoll, who’s on his fourth Lions tour, said in a televised interview. “The boys set a good standard last Saturday and we need to keep building it forward because we know what test lies ahead of us with the Wallabies in a few weeks’ time. There were great aspects to the game but plenty to work on.”
The lineup that began the match didn’t include any starters from Hong Kong as Lions head coach Warren Gatland tries to give all 37 players in the squad game time in the leadup to the best-of-three contest against Australia starting June 22 in Brisbane.
The Lions, a combined team from the U.K. and Ireland, will play another four matches before taking on the third-ranked Wallabies, who rallied for a 2-1 series victory when the teams last met in 2001. The tourists, who haven’t won a Test series since beating South Africa in 1997, next face the Queensland Reds in two days.
Irish prop Healy was cited under a law stating: “contrary to good sportsmanship, a player may not bite an opponent” after Force scrum-half Brett Sheehan accused him of biting his arm in the 17th minute. A scheduled disciplinary hearing in Brisbane today was delayed until tomorrow, the Australian Associated Press reported. He faces a ban if found guilty.
With Healy also damaging ankle ligaments in the match, the Lions called up England’s Alex Corbisiero as cover.
“Cian has had an X-ray and, while his left ankle is not broken, he will be assessed further when we get to Brisbane,” Gatland said in a statement. “In the meantime we need to get Alex over here as soon as possible.”
The Force, the lowest-ranked of the five Australian teams in this year’s Super Rugby competition, included seven rookies in their squad and just two starters from its previous match. Clive Woodward, who coached the Lions in New Zealand in 2005, said having to play weakened teams devalues the tour.
“It is unacceptable and disgraceful to cobble together a weakened, second-string club team to play against some of the best players in the world on one of the great rugby tours,” Woodward wrote in a column in the Daily Mail. “The Lions come to Australia once every 12 years but if this is how they are going to be treated in this country then they should seriously consider whether to return.”
The Lions had almost 60 percent of the possession and made 15 clean breaks to one for the Force, who missed 27 tackles.
The tourists took a 10-0 lead through a Halfpenny penalty and converted try by fly-half Jonathan Sexton. Sheehan kicked the home team’s only points of the first half before O’Driscoll linked up with winger George North on the touchline to dive over in the corner and make it 15-3.
It was the Irishman’s seventh try for the Lions and came 12 years after scoring on his debut against Western Australia.
Healy was carried off on a motorized stretcher in the 35th minute after twisting his left leg in a tackle. Halfpenny made it 20-3 with another penalty and openside flanker Tom Croft went over out wide after the siren for the Lions’ third converted try and a 27-3 halftime lead.
No. 8 Jamie Heaslip added the Lions’ fourth try two minutes after the break and Halfpenny again converted. Heaslip’s opposite number Richard Brown then went over from close range for the Force and Sheehan added the extras.
Mako Vunipola, on as a replacement for the injured Healy, powered over from five meters and winger Tommy Bowe touched down in the corner. Halfpenny maintained his 100 percent record with the boot by converting both from out wide.
Replacement flanker Lachlan McCaffrey got the Force’s second converted try of the game before O’Driscoll and Owen Farrell, on in place of Sexton, ran in tries following midfield breaks. Replacement lock Geoff Parling went over for the Lions’ final try that Halfpenny converted to complete a perfect haul of 24 points.
“We were clinical,” Halfpenny said in a televised interview. “Tonight was about taking us to the next level and getting the momentum going on tour.”
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