Lions Beat Rebels to Maintain Momentum for Australia Series

The British and Irish Lions shut out the Melbourne Rebels 35-0 in their final midweek game before concluding their rugby tour of Australia with back-to-back matches against the Wallabies.

The Lions ran in four tries and got a penalty try, all of which were converted, at AAMI Park in Melbourne last night to improve their 2013 tour record to seven wins and one loss. The match was the players’ last chance to impress head coach Warren Gatland and his fellow selectors before the final two Tests.

“I’m very pleased with that performance,” Gatland said in a televised interview. “We felt we were really close to clicking. It keeps the momentum from Saturday and puts a bit of pressure on us as coaches and selectors for the next couple of days in terms of selection.”

The combined team, which won the opener in Brisbane 23-21 as it seeks a first Test series victory since 1997, faces Australia again in three days at Etihad Stadium in Melbourne and on July 6 in Sydney. Gatland is scheduled to name his lineup for the second match tomorrow, with lock Paul O’Connell ruled out because of a broken arm and prop Alex Corbisiero and center Jamie Roberts in doubt.

Australia center Pat McCabe was today ruled out for the rest of the year after suffering a re-occurrence of a neck fracture in Brisbane. According to specialist advice, “a return is viable pending the full recovery and strengthening of the neck,” Wallabies doctor Warren McDonald said in a statement.

Midweek Rebound

A week after losing their 100 percent tour record with a 14-12 defeat to the Super Rugby-leading ACT Brumbies, the Lions rebounded with the second shutout of their 10-game trip.

Scrum-half Conor Murray and his replacement Ben Youngs, winger Sean Maitland and open-side flanker Sean O’Brien all scored tries, while the second-half penalty try underlined the Lions’ forward dominance. Fly-half Owen Farrell kicked three conversions and Stuart Hogg added two.

“It’s nice for some of these players to get back on the horse and get back into that winning habit after last Tuesday night,” Gatland added.

Murray spun out of a tackle to dive over from close range in the 15th minute following a scrum. Maitland finished off a counterattack 12 minutes later that was sparked by a break by England center Manu Tuilagi, who was playing his first tour game since getting injured on June 8. When No. 8 Toby Faletau was brought down short of the line, quick hands from Simon Zebo at the breakdown enabled Maitland to go over in the corner.

Quick Offloads

The Lions, who made nine handling errors in the opening half, extended their lead to 21-0 nine minutes after the break when quick offloads from fellow forwards Richie Gray and Dan Lydiate sent O’Brien over. Farrell added his third conversion of the night before being replaced by Hogg.

The Lions were then awarded a penalty try when the Rebels pulled down a driving maul close to the try line. Referee Glen Jackson also gave a yellow card to Jordy Reid, sending him to the sin-bin for 10 minutes. Hogg converted to make it 28-0.

Ten minutes after replacing Murray, Youngs spotted a gap after taking a tap-down off the back of a lineout to run in the fifth try under the posts and give Hogg an easy conversion.

With the Rebels seeking a last consolation score, the Lions defenders bundled Jason Woodward into touch as he tried to drive over in the corner.

“We definitely had to up our game and we wanted to get the result and keep the momentum going for the weekend,” Welsh flanker Lydiate, who became the fifth player to captain the Lions on their tour, said in a televised interview. “The main thing was to play well as a team but also to play well as an individual and put yourself forward for selection.”

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