The British and Irish Lions shut out Combined Country 64-0 to maintain their 100 percent record on tour before facing Australia in a three-Test rugby series.
Three days after grinding out a 22-12 win against the Queensland Reds, the Lions ran in 10 tries at Hunter Stadium in Newcastle last night against a squad featuring 10 part-timers including an electrician, an apprentice plumber and a medical student. Winger George North touched down twice.
The combined team from the U.K. and Ireland, which opened its 10-game tour by routing the Barbarians and Western Force, faces the New South Wales Waratahs and ACT Brumbies Super Rugby teams in its next two matches before the first Test against Australia on June 22 in Brisbane. The third-ranked Wallabies rallied for a 2-1 series win when the teams last met in 2001.
“There’s great harmony in the squad,” Lions head coach Warren Gatland said in a news conference. “If we can win the next two games and arrive at Brisbane undefeated it will be a good positive frame to arrive in.”
Against a team featuring only eight starters with any Super Rugby experience, the Lions were 26-0 up within 20 minutes as Alex Cuthbert, Conor Murray, Stuart Hogg and North all ran in tries, three of which Hogg converted. Hogg’s miss from his own try was the first effort at goal the Lions had failed with in their first 20 attempts on Australian soil this tour.
Hooker Richard Hibbard peeled off a rolling maul to dive over for the first try of the game by a forward, and Hogg converted. Welsh winger North added his second try five minutes later to put the Lions ahead 38-0, a lead they took into half time as Sean O’Brien’s effort was disallowed by the television match official because his foot hit the touchline as the Irish flanker powered his way past three defenders.
With handling becoming difficult in the dew, the Lions spilled the ball several times in the opening exchanges of the second half. They showed sure hands in the 49th minute to put captain Brian O’Driscoll into space for the Ireland center’s eighth try in four tours with the Lions.
Leigh Halfpenny, on as a substitute for North, missed the conversion, though his own converted try made it 50-0. Gatland said he’d taken North off to rest him because he’d “had quite a bit of rugby.”
With 15 minutes remaining, O’Brien bounced off a tackler near the line to score the Lions’ ninth try and O’Driscoll kicked the ball through for replacement center Jonathan Davies to score in the corner with the last play of the game. Halfpenny rounded out the win by converting from out wide.
Next Stop Sydney
O’Driscoll said handling errors, exacerbated by the conditions, had prevented the Lions from adding more tries in the second half.
“We tried to kick on in the second half but it just didn’t really happen for us at times,” O’Driscoll told reporters. “It was difficult conditions and that’s why some of the first-half stuff was so pleasing, but we should have been able to kick on from there but we didn’t.”
The Lions travel to Sydney today ahead of their June 15 match against the Waratahs. They then take on the Brumbies, the current Super Rugby leaders, on June 18 in their final match before facing the Wallabies.