Lions cruise to victory over combined NSW, Queensland side
Tourists score 10 tries, keep clean sheet as they display some scintillating speed
The British & Irish Lions maintained their unbeaten start to the tour of Australia by running in 10 tries to overwhelm a willing but outgunned semi-professional Combined Country side 64-0 at Hunter Stadium yesterday.
Wales winger George North confirmed his rich form with two of the tourists' six first-half tries but captain Brian O'Driscoll and coach Warren Gatland were disappointed the Irishman's try was one of only four after the break.
While Gatland said he had been pleased overall with the performance, his brusque manner indicated he was not so happy with the way the Lions stalled in the second half.
"There was some excellent stuff and some average stuff as well," said the New Zealander, adding that the Lions had come through the match unscathed in terms of injury.
"Just a few turnovers and stuff, the team only had one training session together and there was excellent handling and off-loading and tries as well."
With Gatland planning to play a majority of his test side against the New South Wales Waratahs on Saturday, the Lions had no motivation to go easy on the invitational side, which included a carpenter, plumber and a medical student.
The Lions were superior in every department and Gatland's disappointment was perhaps that they had failed to challenge their record victory of 116-10 against Western Australia in 2001, when O'Driscoll made his Lions debut. "I think we got a little bit flat, I mean depth-wise," said the Irishman. "We tried to kick on in the second half but it just didn't really happen for us at times."
A handsome Lions victory looked assured from the eighth minute when winger Alex Cuthbert sprinted across the line to open the scoring, to be followed over in the next five minutes by scrumhalf Conor Murray and Stuart Hogg.
Such has been the quality of the Lions' place-kicking on the tour, that the failure of Scotland fullback Hogg, playing his first senior game at flyhalf, to convert his own try from in front of the posts was a blot on his copy book.
Otherwise, though, he had a solid game at number 10, which will be reassuring for the Lions, who have only Jonny Sexton and Owen Farrell as specialist flyhalves in the squad.
"I thought he played very well," said Gatland. "I was really pleased with his performance, he kicked and ran well, played nice and flat, it was a really good performance from him."
Flanker Justin Tipuric did enough to make it clear that tour captain Sam Warburton would have to fight for the number seven shirt for the three tests against Australia. Hooker Richard Hibbard, flanker Sean O'Brien and Jonathan Davies after the hooter at the end of the game were the other try-scorers.
Although they failed to score, the Country team could take some pride in limiting the Lions to fewer points than Super Rugby's Western Force, who lost 69-17 to the visitors last week.
With four wins from four games, Gatland said he felt the Lions were on the right track heading towards the first of three tests against the Wallabies in Brisbane on June 22.
"Great harmony within the squad, the boys that didn't play today worked hard, we're undefeated, so if we can win the next two games and arrive in Brisbane undefeated it will be a good, positive frame of mind to arrive in," he said.