NSW Waratahs 17 British and Irish Lions 47: Classy Lions rise above the roughhouse

Wyn Jones, Croft, Davies and Halfpenny shine as Waratahs’ tough tackling takes the gloss off victory for limping Sexton and Roberts


It was not until their last tour here a dozen years ago that the Lions found a way of breaking through the 30-point barrier against New South Wales – or the Waratahs, as the locals are known in this age of the punchy nicknames.

Yesterday, Leigh Halfpenny scored 30 on his own, topping up another flawless kicking display with a couple of well-taken tries. Yet it was a measure of this high-calibre effort from the tourists that a trio of players shone even more brightly than the Wales full-back.

Where to start? Up front, that’s where. The overwhelming majority of rugby matches are won by the forward pack – unless something very odd happens, the backs merely decide the margin of victory – so the pleasure taken by the Lions coaches in the performances of the lock Alun Wyn Jones and flanker Tom Croft was wholly understandable. Wyn Jones, unnervingly quiet in his previous outings, found the best of himself at just the right time while Croft was a transformative figure, both at the line-out and across the wide-open prairies.

Away from the grunt-and-groan department there was an eye-catching contribution from Jonathan Davies, who travelled here as the second outside-centre to the great Brian O’Driscoll – how’s that for a thankless task? – yet performed so strongly against the most aggressive and abrasive opponents of the trip to date that he almost demanded a place in the starting line-up for next weekend’s First Test against the Wallabies in Brisbane.

To describe the Welsh midfielder’s display as welcome would be an understatement of mighty proportions, given the misfortune that befell his countryman and fellow centre Jamie Roberts midway through the final quarter. Roberts, one of the Lions’ strongmen in South Africa four years ago and a cast-iron certainty to have started this series in the No 12 shirt, was gang-tackled inside the Waratahs’ 22 as he sought to continue another withering Lions attack and sank to the ground clutching his right hamstring, his face contorted in pain.

He still looked in acute discomfort when, after a prolonged period of on-field treatment, he limped down the players’ tunnel as the game restarted without him. As the Cardiff Blues man, bound for club rugby in France next season, was the only specialist inside-centre selected in the original party – Billy Twelvetrees of England is now here, but he has yet to set foot on the field after flying in from Argentina on Friday – the seriousness of this development was obvious.

There could easily have been other casualties, for the Waratahs, prime movers in the almighty dust-up against the tourists at this same venue in 2001, went Lion hunting once again. Their physicality was more targeted on this occasion: the visiting half-backs, Mike Phillips and Jonathan Sexton, were the men who found themselves in the firing line. Sexton, in particular, was given a thorough roughing-up, and there were times when the most important player in the squad was seen hobbling around like an arthritic old maid.

But the Irish playmaker was not to be denied: he created a good deal during his 49 minutes on the field and managed to erase most of the concerns over his fitness, generated by the hamstring strain he suffered during last week’s victory over the Queensland Reds. This was another significant bonus for the coaches. Even the vaguest threat of losing both Sexton and Roberts from the midfield would border on the calamitous.

The Lions should have been on the scoreboard within 40 seconds of the start of this high-voltage encounter, Sexton and Davies showing some imaginative touches in freeing the Lions newcomer Simon Zebo down the left.

The Irish wing, called in as injury cover last weekend, should have made his bow in a blaze of glory, but he blew the chance by sliding a foot into touch when challenged by the outstanding Drew Mitchell, far and away the Waratahs’ best player.

It did not matter a fat lot, as things transpired. Five minutes in, Davies and Sexton combined again after excellent work from a pumped-up Halfpenny, the centre creating the opening try for the outside-half with an intelligent round-the-corner pass. Halfpenny, who had already knocked over a long-range penalty with customary aplomb, nailed the conversion from wide out.

As they had promised during the build-up to the game, the Waratahs were in no mood to run up the white flag; their locks, Ollie Atkins and the supersized Will Skelton, put themselves about at close quarters, while the gifted outside-half Bernard Foley joined Mitchell in asking questions with ball in hand.

They were rewarded with a try by the centre Tom Carter after the Lions wing Sean Maitland fluffed a tackle. Yet there was not the merest hint of panic in the tourists’ ranks. Halfpenny hit the spot with two further penalties, and when the full-back crossed just before half-time following Sexton’s clever chip for Zebo and some heavy-duty driving from Wyn Jones, there was no obvious way back for the home side.

Halfpenny was over the line again within minutes of the restart – a superb strike move, with the midfield trio working in perfect harmony to create the necessary space – and after a second, barely meaningful close-range response from Carter, the Lions rubbed in their superiority with a galloping try down the left from Croft and a jog-in down the right from Davies, who deserved his score more than anyone.

Waratahs: D Mitchell; C Crawford, R Horne, T Carter,  P Betham; B Foley, B McKibbin; J Tilse, J Ulugia, P Ryan, W Skelton, O Atkins, J Holloway, P McCutcheon, D Dennis (capt). Replacements: T Kingston for Carter, 46; L Timani for Holloway, 49; A J Gilbert for McCutcheon, 55; B Volavola for Betham, 71; M Lucas for McKibbin, 72; R Aho for Tilse, 72; L Holmes for Ulugia, 72; S Talakai for Ryan, 72.

Lions: L Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues); S Maitland (Glasgow),  J Davies (Scarlets), J Roberts (Cardiff Blues), S Zebo (Munster); J Sexton (Leinster), M Phillips (Bayonne); M Vunipola (Saracens), T Youngs (Leicester), A Jones (Ospreys), A W Jones (Ospreys), P O’Connell (Munster), T Croft (Leicester), S Warburton (Cardiff Blues; capt), J Heaslip (Leinster).  Replacements: O Farrell (Saracens) for Sexton, 49; R Kearney (Leinster) for Halfpenny, 59; B Youngs (Leicester) for Phillips, 59; A Corbisiero (London Irish) for Vunipola, 59; R Hibbard (Ospreys) for T Youngs, 59; D Cole (Leicester) for A Jones, 59; G Parling (Leicester) for O’Connell, 59; D Lydiate (Newport Gwent Dragons) for Croft, 59.

Referee: J Peyper (South Africa).

voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
The Pipes and Drums of The Scottish Regiments perform during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Commonwealth GamesThe actor encouraged the one billion viewers of the event to donate to the children's charity
Karen Dunbar performs
Entertainers showcase local wit, talent and irrepressible spirit
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Bey can do it: Beyoncé re-enacts Rosie the Riveter's pose
newsRosie the Riveter started out as an American wartime poster girl and has become a feminist pin-up. With Beyoncé channeling her look, Gillian Orr tells her story
Life and Style
Donna and Paul Wheatley at their wedding
healthShould emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?
Arts and Entertainment
Residents of Derby Road in Southampton oppose filming of Channel 4 documentary Immigration Street in their community
Caption competition
Caption competition
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements