British and Irish Lions blank Melbourne Rebels to complete midweek schedule
By Graeme Mair. Last Updated: 25/06/13 3:55pm
Manu Tuilagi made his return from injury as the British and Irish Lions won their final midweek game 35-0 against Melbourne Rebels.
Tries from Conor Murray, Sean Maitland, Sean O'Brien and Ben Youngs - plus a penalty try - saw the tourists prevail comfortably against their Super Rugby opponents at AAMI Park.
England centre Tuilagi, who had been sidelined by a shoulder problem since the win over Queensland Reds early in the tour, played the full 80 minutes and was among a raft of players to boost their prospects of featuring in the remaining two Tests as the Lions attempt to turn their 1-0 lead over the Wallabies into a series win.
The Lions' scrum asserted early dominance and was responsible for setting up the opening try in the 16th minute after they got a shove on from close range.
No.8 Toby Faletau was stopped just short after going himself but the ball was quickly recycled to allow scrum-half Murray to spin away and dive over.
Owen Farrell landed the touchline conversion and, with the Saracens fly-half playing flatter than usual, the Lions started to open up their running game.
The second try came in the 28th minute thanks to a flowing move that saw the ball kept alive after Tuilagi had made good ground through the middle.
Maitland looked to have put in Faletau only for the Wales forward to slip. But it was only a temporary reprieve for the short-handed Rebels as Maitland himself went over from Simon Zebo's pass on the next phase.
Farrell again converted before the Rebels enjoyed their best spell as half-time approached. The home side's Welsh skipper Gareth Delve turned down an easy three points and opted to kick a penalty to the corner, only for Ian Evans to steal the subsequent lineout and ensure the Lions got through to the break unscathed.
O'Brien was fuming after Maitland failed to find him out wide with the try-line looming but the Irish flanker did cross for the Lions' third in the 50th minute.
It came from a well-worked lineout move, Faletau taking the catch before it was switched back to the blindside via Richie Gray and Dan Lydiate, who delivered the scoring pass to O'Brien out of the back of his hand.
Farrell's final contribution before making way for Stuart Hogg was another pinpoint conversion from out wide, taking his tally on tour to 18 successful place kicks out of 19.
The Rebels faded down the stretch, giving up a penalty try in the 63rd minute and losing Jordy Reid to the sin-bin after the replacement came in from the side to kill the forward momentum of a Lions maul.
Replacement scrum-half Youngs capped the win with the Lions' fifth try under the posts in the 73rd minute from another pre-planned lineout move and the tourists stood firm in defence late on to complete the shutout.
The Lions remain in Melbourne for the second Test on Saturday at the city's Etihad Stadium when they will have the chance to close out their first series success since beating South Africa in 1997.
Lions v Rebels 2013
Melbourne Rebels are to appeal Lachlan Mitchell's one-match ban imposed following the game against the Lions.
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Lions coach Warren Gatland was pleased with his side's positive outlook during the 35-0 win over the Rebels.