Friday 19 January 2018

Halfpenny's record haul


Leigh Halfpenny kicks a penalty
Leigh Halfpenny kicks a penalty

Robert Kitson

Sometimes the timing of a performance can be as important as the numbers on the scoreboard. From the Lions' perspective, this was a powerful statement of intent that will resonate far beyond the scenic inner suburbs of Sydney.

Smart, disciplined and propelled by another display of wizardry from fullback Leigh Halfpenny, the touring team are in good order ahead of Saturday's date in Brisbane.

Halfpenny contributed 30 shimmering points, including two tries and a 100 per cent kicking haul. The only negative was the suspected hamstring tear that could have serious repercussions for Jamie Roberts' participation in the first Test.

If there is a consolation, it is that his Welsh team-mate Jonathan Davies had a splendid game and would make a worthy midfield partner for Brian O'Driscoll.

The latter's first words when he came into the dressing room afterwards were: "Man, how good was Jonathan Davies?" It is pretty much the ultimate seal of approval that any centre can receive.

In addition, Tom Croft, Alun Wyn Jones, Paul O'Connell, Tom Youngs and Mako Vunipola all surged to the front of the queue in terms of booking places in the Test XV, while the Lions' key individuals, Jonathan Sexton and Adam Jones, came off without any serious damage. Sexton did take a pounding, some of which crossed the line of acceptability, but is guaranteed to be back at the tactical helm at Suncorp Stadium.

Stick it all together and this five-try victory was the most satisfying of the tour to date.

The Waratahs were 10 points down inside six minutes after Davies and Sexton combined to put the flyhalf over untouched. Halfpenny added the conversion and a penalty to reinforce the sense of a Lions team in the mood to impress.

A breakaway try finished by centre Tom Carter, who ultimately collected two, stemmed the momentum for a while. The Lions' defensive line was iron-clad, but the forwards found themselves with an increasing amount of work to do in the second quarter as a lively contest grew more physical. The Waratahs were clearly keen to soften up Sexton in particular but, the class operator that he is, he again combined with Davies to put Halfpenny away for a fine team try a minute before the interval. The power, control and patience shown by the forwards, with O'Connell and Alun Wyn Jones in the vanguard, was precisely what the Lions management will be looking for in Brisbane.

Halfpenny added a second just after the interval; he has now kicked 22 out of 23 kicks on this tour, but the sight of him stepping and gliding past far bigger opponents is fast becoming as commonplace. Right now, he is playing like JPR Williams, Gerald Davies and Jonny Wilkinson rolled into one.

Croft's trademark gallop to the try-line, with Davies involved in the build-up yet again, was just another reason for the travelling red hordes to be optimistic. It is reasonable to assume the Lions have not shown all their cards yet and, some bruised bodies aside, they will move on to Brisbane with the confidence of men who can sense their hand strengthening.

Along with Halfpenny's howitzer boot – this was a record points haul for a Lion in Australia – they can play it in a variety of ways: tight, wide, fast or slow. The Wallaby pack, without David Pocock, Scott Higginbotham and George Smith is not as strong as it could be. If the hosts do go one down early in the series, the pressure will start to build. As they prepare to relocate to Canberra for Tuesday's game, the Lions are starting to prey on the nerves of a whole nation.

Scorers – NSW Waratahs: Carter 2 tries, McKibbin 2 con, 1 pen. Lions: Halfpenny 2 tries, 4 con, 4 pen, Sexton, Croft, Davies, try each, Farrell con.

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

Lions: L Halfpenny (R Kearney 59); S Maitland, J Davies, J Roberts, S Zebo; J Sexton (O Farrell 49), M Phillips (B Youngs 59); M Vunipola (A Corbisiero 59), T Youngs (R Hibbard 59), A Jones (D Cole 59); AW Jones, P O'Connell (G Parling 59); T Croft (D Lydiate 59), S Warburton (capt), J Heaslip.

Referee: J Peyper (SARU)

Irish Independent

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