Lions open Aussie account with resounding win

Manu Tuilagi

The 2013 British and Irish Lions opened their tour proper in Australia with a comfortable and clinical victory over an understrength Western Force side at the Subiaco Oval on Wednesday.

Three first half tries from Sexton, O’Driscoll and Croft, along with second half scores from Heaslip, Vunipola, O’Driscoll again, Bowe, Farrell and Parling saw the tourists storm to a resounding 69-17 win.

But can we really learn anything from the pummeling of what is effectively the second string of Australia’s worst franchise?

Yes, we can. Firstly, the positives: Manu Tuilagi and Brian O’Driscoll looks like a centre partnership that has some serious potential. O’Driscoll claims he has been following Tuilagi around all week in a bid to train himself to do just that in match situations – and in the second half it paid dividends when a break and beautifully soft pass from Tuilagi allowed the Irishman to scoot over under the posts.

Leigh Halfpenny’s kicking is flawless – that much was confirmed as he slotted kicks from all over the pitch. His back three mates, George North and Tommy Bowe, were making breaks left, right and centre and North’s offloads are a joy to behold.

At fly-half Jonny Sexton was composed and managed to get his backs into the game much more comfortably than Farrell could in Hong Kong. In the back row Jamie Heaslip looked a completely different man to the one who struggled so in an Ireland shirt recently – perhaps red is just his favourite colour. Beside him Sean O’Brien was also back to his best, and captain Sam Warburton now faces a mammoth challenge just to get into the squad, let alone the starting team.

It wasn’t all rosy, however. The front five did not dominate as they should have done. Rory Best’s throwing was a worry as the Lions lost valuable line-out ball on several occasions, and Cian Healy’s eagerness to engage cost them free-kicks early on. Alun-Wyn Jones and Ian Evans in the engine room got through a mountain of work, but looked ponderous on the ball and at times were guilty of snuffing out building momentum.

And sadly at scrum-half, Conor Murray does not look like he is capable of doing anything Mike Phillips cannot already do better. He will need to add more strings to his bow, and soon, if he is to avoid the label of a poor man’s version of the Welshman.

So an easy victory it was, but it is still important to win these games and win them well. Remember the opening game of the 2009 tour, when the Lions struggled past a composite team of South African second division journeymen? This was abundantly better than that performance, and in that regard fans, players and coaches alike must be enthused about the rest of the tour.

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