Sunday 25 February 2018

Match report: O'Brien and Murray may force their way into Lions Test squad

Melbourne Rebels 0-35 Lions

Sean O'Brien, British & Irish Lions, celebrates after scoring his side's third try with team-mate Conor Murray, right.
Sean O'Brien, British & Irish Lions, celebrates after scoring his side's third try with team-mate Conor Murray, right.

By Conor George in Melbourne

THOUGHTS turn to Saturday’s second Test with the outstanding questions surrounding the early withdrawals of Ireland’s Sean O’Brien and Conor Murray.

Have the pair done enough to force their way into the Test 22?

O’Brien was very close last weekend and was the 24th man. His performance against the Rebels in Melbourne tonight might just have tipped the balance in his favour.

He and Murray scored tries in a facile victory with the scrum-half also impressing. The scrum-half showed great reactions when he pilfered the Lions’ opening try after 15 minutes of a contest that never truly came to life. Indeed the muted nature of the crowd reflected the fare on the field – relatively dull and rather contrived.

This was the final midweek game of the ten-match tour and had every sign of it. Some players were simply going through the motions knowing that this was their last playing involvement on a Tour that has under a fortnight to run.

Murray, though, was one of those with something to play for and he looked in. His passing from the ruck throughout the first half was clean, crisp and sharp, in stark contrast to Mike Phillips’ in Saturday’s opening Test.

His speed of delivery afforded Own Farrell the time to pick out his passes and get the Lions attacking with front-foot ball. Unfortunately the better the quality from the scrum-half the more Farrell looked like the inside centre he is playing in a position he is simply none too comfortable in.

That mattered not a whit for the game’s opening try.

The Lions marched the Rebels deep into their own 22 and looked to have unlocked their defence when Brad Barritt put through a delightful grubber for Sean Maitland only for Rebels’ full back Jason Woodward to intercede and carry the ball over the line for an attacking 5-metre scrum.

The Lions drove on from the scrum and although they were held on the line, Murray picked up the ball, dummied to let it out and spun back inside to get the ball down despite having flanker Scott Fuglistaller strapped to his back.

Farrell’s conversion from near the touchline was superb.

The Lions were in control from this juncture. Sean Maitland was next to impress. Twice he was involved in the free-flowing rugby that led to his try after 28 minutes. Toby Faletau had looked destined to break through for the touch-down but an inopportune slip cost him with Maitland looping around to benefit.

This was the Lions in ruthless mode and after turning over with a 14 points cushion they pushed themselves further in front just four minutes after the restart. Fittingly Ireland’s Sean O’Brien was the try-scorer this time.

Ian Evans took a line-out at the front and fed his second-row partner Richie Gray who spotted O’Brien coming around the corner. A building wouldn’t have stopped the Tullow Tank at that stage and inevitably he got over.

A penalty try followed soon and the Lions had the final say when replacement scrum-half Ben Youngs broke in the closing minutes to get over under the posts.


Scorers Lions: C Murray, S O’Brien, S Maitland, B Youngs try each. Pen try. O Farrell 3 cons. S Hogg 2 cons.

Melbourne Rebels: J Woodward, T English, M Inman (C Vuna 53), R Sidey, L Mitchell, B Hegarty (A Roberts 72), L Burgess (N Stirzaker 57), N Henderson (C Ah Nau 60), G Robinson (P Leafa 6), L Weeks (P Alo-Emile 60), C Neville (L Jones half), H Pyle, J Saffy, S Fuglistaller, G Delve (J Reid 57).

Replacements: P Leafa, C Ah Nau, P Alo-Emile, L Jones, J Reid, N Stirzaker, A Roberts, C Vuna

Lions: R Kearney (B Twelvetrees 62), S Maitland, M Tuilagi, B Barritt, S Zebo, O Farrell (S Hogg 53), C Murray (B Youngs 64), R Grant (T Court 55), R Hibbard (R Best 55), D Cole (M Stevens 55), R Gray, I Evans, D Lydiate (T Croft 66), S O’Brien (J Tipuric 55), T Faletau.

Replacements: R Best, T Court, M Stevens, T Croft, J Tipuric, B Youngs, B Twelvetrees, S Hogg

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