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Lions go on the rampage

The British & Irish Lions went into overdrive as they maintained their 100 per cent tour record at a canter in Newcastle, beating the part-timers of the Combined Country XV with 10 tries.

It was a return to the easy victories over the Barbarians and the Western Force earlier in the tour and will have left head coach Warren Gatland in two minds – happy at chalking up a fourth successive victory, but not so happy at the quality of opposition served up for his team 11 days out from the first Test against the Qantas Wallabies.

With only an understrength Waratahs team to come in Sydney on Saturday, and then a final midweek run out in Canberra against a Brumbies team shorn of their internationals, the Lions are unlikely to face another test like the one they so relished in Brisbane against the Queensland Reds last weekend before they face the full might of Australia.

The Combined XV had 12 players with Super Rugby experience in their match day 23, but they also boasted an electrical engineer, a medical student, a builder, plumber and carpenter. It was a miss match from the start and it only took eight minutes before the first try was run in by right wing Alex Cuthbert.

We heard the first roars of ‘Lions, Lions’ from the travelling Red Army and there was plenty for them to shout about once the early exchanges had laid down some ground rules for the extremely enthusiastic local side to obey.

Where Cuthbert led, so fellow wing George North, twice, Conor Murray, Stuart Hogg and Richard Hibbard followed before the break as the Lions ran in six tries to lead 38-0. The only blemish on the visitors’ record in the first-half were two misses at goal by Hogg.

The Scottish star, filling in at outside half instead of his favoured full back berth, converted the first two tries to take the Lions’ goalkicking record to 20 successive kicks on Australian soil, but then rattled an upright with his attempt at converting his own try in the 12th minute.

He was wide with another conversion shot when North ran in his second try and when Leigh Halfpenny was introduced along with Alun Wyn Jones after half-time he relinquished the kicking duties.

The Combined XV lasted longer at the start of the second half than they had in the first before conceding a try – 10 minutes compared to eight – and tackled hard. But as soon as skipper on the night Brian O’Driscoll had crossed for try number seven the floodgates were re-opened.

That score, wide out on the right, gave Halfpenny his first shot at goal and he lost his 100 per cent record on tour. After his 11 our of 11 showing in Perth everyone expected his kick to sail between the posts, but he proved he was human by pushing his first attempt of the night wide.

Not that that lasted for long. When he crossed for the next try after 55 minutes he was able to bring up the half century of points with fifth conversion of the night to resume normal service.

The Lions went through a sloppy phase for a while after Gatland introduced six more replacements and the scoreboard lay dormant for a full 11 minutes until Sean O’Brien ploughed over for a ninth try which Halfpenny improved.

There was another lull in the scoring before replacement centre Jonathan Davies put the seal on a good night’s work with a try after the hooter.

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