Combined Country thrown to the Lions


Put a plumber, a removalist, an engineer, a labourer and a medical student together with two days’ training and a 64-0 scoreline is probably on the cards when they come up against a British and Irish Lions side boasting 131 Test caps in one player alone.

Give the same group 40 minutes on the pitch and they will rise to the occasion, reining in a six-try, 38-point first-half deficit to just 19 points for most of the final half with stoic defence and an eye for counter attack.

An 80th minute boilover from replacement back Jonathan Davies blew the scoreline out to 64-0 to the Lions but the motley crew of Combined NSW and Queensland Country, who boasted just nine Super Rugby players in their 23-man squad, held nothing back against their intimidating northern hemisphere guests.

Desperate defence limited the carnage to 10 tries, but poor kicking and a savagely clinical breakdown approach by the Lions meant the Country men could not notch a single point.

There was a lot obscured by the scoreboard landslide. The back three combination of Sean Maitland, Alex Cuthbert and George North, supplemented by fullback-turned-five-eighth Stuart Hogg and evergreen centre O’Driscoll put a devastating spin on the Lions’ attack.

But a complete absence of pace from their Country counterparts – until Cairns removalist Dale Ah Wang came off the bench in the second half – made it difficult to appraise its real power.

There were frustrating handling errors from numerous players – Jamie Roberts did not cover himself in glory – and a far inferior second half performance will keep Warren Gatland turning over the selection permutations for another night or two.

It took the visitors eight minutes to open the scoring and another 25 minutes to amass a six-try-to-nothing lead, despite the home side’s defence.

The Lions’ back line was superb, cranking into gear and making the Country side pay for any turn overs or missed tackles. When captain Brian O’Driscoll and his back three smelt blood, there was little the Country side could do, the visitors running in three tries in the space of four minutes before a second spurt towards the end of the half added a further three.

After some solid defence in the opening minutes, Lions openside Justin Tipuric set the wheels in motion, finally breaking through with a storming run into their 22, before it was recycled and delivered into the hands of winger Alex Cuthbert in the right hand corner.

Conor Murray was next, before five-eighth Stuart Hogg made it three in the 12th minute. He missed the conversion for his own try but had nailed the two prior, leaving the Lions 19-0 in front.

Just when the Lions looked to have gathered momentum, former Waratahs back rower Richard Stanford charged down a clearing kick from opposition fullback Sean Maitland in the Lions’ 22.

Country captain Tim Davidson made a series of wildly popular calls to kick for the corner but there was no pay from the resulting three minutes of pick and go.

Tipuric eventually turned the ball over before farming it out to his outside backs, sending Sean Maitland and George North off for a length-of-the-field effort that precipitated a second try-scoring spurt in the 21st minute. North grabbed his first five-pointer of the match, hooker Richard Hibbard made it 31-0 before North struck again, taking the Lions to a 38-0 lead in the 33rd minute.

O’Driscoll opened the scoring after the break but replacement back Leigh Halfpenny missed the conversion, keeping the scoreline at 43-0. He came good six minutes later with a darting run in the 56th minute, converting his own try to make it 50-0.

Combined Country were tiring fast. They went on the attack at the 60th minute mark, winning their line out but turning it over phases later. The ball stayed anchored in the Lion’s half, flanker Sean O’Brien barrelling over for his second try of the tour and Halfpenny converting to make it 57-0.

For one restorative second Cairns removalist Dale Ah Wang appeared to have bagged an intercept try with 10 minutes to go but a replay revealed two knock ons before he reached the line. Trent Dyer also sniffed out an opportunity, scooping up his own intercept ball to produce a Country scrum five metres out from the Lions’ line.

They could not capitalise and were forced to defend out the game before a final, converted try to Jonathan Davies proved the final blow.

LIONS 64 (George North 2, Alex Cuthbert, Jonathan Davies, Leigh Halfpenny, Richard Hibbard, Stuart Hogg, Conor Murray, Sean O’Brien, Brian O’Driscoll tries Hogg 4, Halfpenny 3 cons) bt COMBINED COUNTRY 0 at Hunter Stadium. Referee: Steve R. Walsh. Crowd: 20,071

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The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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