Lions Beat Waratahs in Second-Last Tuneup for Rugby Series

Leigh Halfpenny scored 30 points as the British and Irish Lions beat the New South Wales Waratahs 47-17 in their next-to-last game before taking on Australia in a three-match rugby series. The touring team today drafted former Wales winger Shane Williams for its final tuneup.

The Lions ran in five tries to the hosts’ two at Sydney’s Allianz Stadium last night to maintain their 100 percent record through five of 10 games. Full-back Halfpenny touched down twice and kicked four conversions and four penalties. The win was soured by a hamstring injury to inside center Jamie Roberts that forced the Lions to finish the match with only 14 players.

“It was a tough match for us,” Lions head coach Warren Gatland said in a news conference. “The Waratahs had talked about taking it to us physically, they tried to do that and I thought the guys responded to that physicality. In the end we were just too big and powerful for them.”

The combined squad from the U.K. and Ireland has one more game, against the Australian Conference-leading ACT Brumbies Super Rugby team on June 18, before the best-of-three contest against Australia starts four days later in Brisbane. The Wallabies won 2-1 when the teams last met in 2001.

Gatland is scheduled to name his lineup for the series opener on June 20, by which time he’ll know if players including winger George North and center Manu Tuilagi have recovered from injuries. Welsh center Roberts, who was named the Lions’ player of the series against South Africa four years ago, injured his right leg with 12 minutes remaining last night.

‘Fingers Crossed’

“He’s going to get a scan,” Gatland said of Roberts. “The medics thought it might have been a hamstring, but he said he has never pulled a hamstring before. He’s not kind of sure, so he’s got his fingers crossed that it may not be that. So we just have to see what happens.”

The Lions said today that Wales’s record try-scorer Williams, who quit international rugby in 2011, will fly in from Japan to bolster the squad against the Brumbies in two days. The 36-year-old winger, who played on the Lions’ 2005 and 2009 tours, will feature in a team that also includes England backs Christian Wade and Brad Barritt, who were called up as injury cover overnight.

England’s Billy Twelvetrees, another recent reinforcement to the original 37-man squad that left London last month, will form the starting center pairing with Barritt, who had been on vacation in the U.S. when he got the call up. Ireland hooker Rory Best will captain the tourists in Canberra.

Win Against Waratahs

In front of a crowd of 40,805 last night, fly-half Jonathan Sexton, flanker Tom Croft and center Jonathan Davies also scored tries for the Lions, while Owen Farrell added a conversion. Tom Carter scored a try in each half and Brendan McKibbin kicked seven points for the Waratahs, who were without eight Wallabies players and three other injured internationals.

The Lions took a 23-10 halftime lead through converted tries from Sexton and Halfpenny, who added three penalties for a 100 percent record with all five kicks at goal in the opening half.

The Waratahs scored a converted try from center Carter, who was sent clear by Peter Betham after the winger had taken Bernard Foley’s cross-field kick and passed inside. McKibbin also added a first-half penalty for the home team.

Halfpenny got his second try three minutes after halftime after being put into space by Davies and converted to make it 30-10. Carter then busted through two tacklers close to the line and McKibbin added the extra points to pull the Waratahs within 13 points.

Halfpenny’s Boot

Halfpenny booted his fourth penalty of the match before an intercept by Davies helped create a try for Croft that was converted from the sideline by Halfpenny, who has now landed 22 of his 23 shots at goal on tour so far.

“Previous Lions tours and World Cups have been won on goalkicking,” Gatland added. “Apart from his goalkicking, I thought some of his lines of running and his positional play defensively and kicking out of hand were excellent. He is playing at the top of his game.”

Gatland made seven changes with about 20 minutes remaining to rest players including Halfpenny, Croft, Sexton and scrum-half Mike Phillips ahead of next week’s opening Test.

With fellow Welshman Roberts hobbling off on the opposite side of the pitch, Davies scooted down the line with eight minutes left to make it 45-17 and Farrell converted to close the scoring.

“Even at the end there when we were down to 14 men we controlled the game without being under too much pressure,” Gatland added. “In fairness to the Waratahs they took it to us. I thought the guys responded magnificently. I thought the discipline was excellent, so I’m very pleased.”

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