Perth has never held many terrors for the British and Irish Lions, who scored more than 100 points on their last visit here a dozen years ago, but the tourists’ latest comfortable victory on Western Australian soil was tarnished by the early loss of the Irish prop Cian Healy, who left the field on a stretcher after suffering a nasty ankle injury.
It happened shortly before the interval and looked grim. Carrying the ball near halfway, he was tackled by the Western Force flanker Angus Cottrell and hit the ground hard, his face contorted in pain. Within seconds, the tourists' medical staff signalled for the stretcher. Two of Healy’s clubmates at Leinster, the centre Brian O’Driscoll and the No 8 Jamie Heaslip, ran over to offer heartfelt sympathy – a clear sign of their concern.
Already 17-3 up after tries from the Irish outside-half Jonathan Sexton, who ambled through a disconnected Force defence in the fourth minute, and O’Driscoll, who touched down in the corner after a smart exchange of passes with the impressive George North, the Lions reacted to this blow by pushing things along on the scoreboard. Leigh Halfpenny, in prime kicking form, added an immediate penalty and then converted from the touchline as Tom Croft, the England flanker, maximised a big overlap with the help of Sean O’Brien and Alun Wyn Jones.
Not that things had gone completely to plan. After Sexton’s soft opening try, the Lions found themselves in difficulties as the Force found ways of exerting pressure, scrummaging confidently and making their presence felt at the tackle area through Cottrell and the combative Wallaby back-rower Matt Hodgson. There was also an uncomfortable moment when Force players complained of a biting incident, but a referral to the television official Glenn Newman yielded nothing in the way of hard evidence.
The Lions were happy enough by the break, though, and when the impressive Heaslip set sail in open field on the restart and then completed the job by scoring from Sexton’s magisterial pass off the left hand, they set their sights on a big score. Pegged back momentarily by a close-range try from the Force No 8 Richard Brown, they were back on the rampage within minutes, Mako Vunipola crashing through the overmatched full-back Sam Christie in the right corner. Halfpenny’s angled conversion was as perfectly struck as the others.
Indeed, Halfpenny delivered a master class in marksmanship. A second O’Driscoll try, cleverly created by Sexton and Manu Tuilagi; a cruising score for Owen Farrell; a close-range finish from the substitute lock Geoff Parling…all were improved by the Welsh full-back, who ended the evening with a faultless haul of 24 points.
In all, the Lions ran in nine tries, some of them of high quality. They would have preferred a tougher hit-out – the Force rested a number of their best players ahead of a Super 15 game this weekend – but Halfpenny, North, O’Driscoll and Sexton in particular made big claims for Test places against the Wallabies.
Western Force – Tries: R Brown, McCaffrey. Conversions: Sheehan 2. Penalty: Sheehan.
Lions – Tries: O’Driscoll 2, Sexton, Croft, Heaslip, Vunipola, Bowe, Farrell, Parling. Conversions: Halfpenny 9. Penalties: Halfpenny 2.
Western Force: S Christie; D Haylett-Petty, E Stubbs, C Tuatara-Morrison, C Brown; S Norton-Knight, B Sheehan; S Manu, J Hilterbrand, S Ma’afu, T Lynn, P Battye, A Cottrell, M Hodgson (capt), R Brown.
Replacements: S Kolo for Manu 49; L McCaffrey for Cottrell 53; N Haining for C Brown 62; J Rasolea for Haylett-Petty 72; A Mathewson for Sheehan 72; T Metcher for Ma’afu 77; H Roach for Hilterbrand 79.
Lions: L Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues); T Bowe (Ulster), B O’Driscoll (Leinster, capt), M Tuilagi (Leicester), G North (Scarlets); J Sexton (Leinster), C Murray (Munster); C Healy (Leinster), R Best (Ulster), D Cole (Leicester), A W Jones (Ospreys), I Evans (Ospreys), T Croft (Leicester), S O’Brien (Leinster), J Heaslip (Leinster).
Replacements: M Vunipola (Saracens) for Healy 36; T Youngs (Leicester) for Best 60; G Parling (Leicester) for Evans 60; O Farrell (Saracens) for Sexton 65; B Youngs (Leicester) for Murray 65; M Stevens (Saracens) for Cole 67; T Faletau (Newport Gwent Dragons) for Croft 71;
Referee: G Jackson (New Zealand).