Rebels’ resistance broken as leading Lions stake claims
The Lions 35-0 victory over a largely toothless Melbourne Rebels side was as comprehensive as the scoreline suggests, and should have given the selectors much to ponder ahead of the second Test.
Much of the pre-match focus surrounded the return of England centre Manu Tuilagi, who showed enough to suggest that he will have forced his way into the reckoning for the second Test. It was his break – in which he fended off three defenders – and skilful offload that set Sean Maitland’s scintillating first half try in motion.
Brian O’Driscoll and Jonathan Davies were more solid than spectacular in the first Test, offering little offensive penetration while maintaining an impregnable defensive shield – Australia’s joy came largely out wide.
The pair’s performances during the Tour to date may convince Gatland to stick with them, though that decision may hinge on how Robbie Deans rebuilds his midfield.
The injury suffered by Wallaby inside centre Pat McCabe has undoubtedly softened the core of the home side’s backline, a weakness Tuilagi appears best equipped to exploit; few would be surprised if he featured in the match day 23.
Other notable performers likely to have attracted the coaches’s attention include Owen Farrell, who enjoyed an impressive afternoon both with ball in hand and in goal-kicking, though his chances of replacing Johnny Sexton in the starting fifteen seem remote barring injury, as Sexton was a reassuring presence at Suncorp Stadium.
In the forwards, Sean O’Brien was a constant menace at the breakdown and was rewarded for his endeavours with a try, while Dan Lydiate was typically industrious in defence, topping the Lions’s tackle count.
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