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Halfpenny is record breaking hero

Leigh Halfpenny helped himself to a record 30 points for the British & Irish Lions in a tour game in Australia as the tourists turned on the style at the Allianz Stadium against the HSBC Waratahs.

A week out from the first Test the Lions showed the on-looking Qantas Wallabies coach Robbie Deans exactly what he will be up against in Brisbane.
The Waratahs were 12 players short of their full squad, eight with the Qantas Wallabies and four injuries, but came into the game on the back of a first win over the Western Force in Perth. Not only that, they had their skipper Dave Dennis and centre Rob Horne released from the Wallaby camp and welcomed back highly rated flanker Pat McCuthcheon.
The fixture dates back to the inaugural tour in 1888 when New South Wales were the first opponents on Australian soil on June 2. That game, the first of three between the two sides, ended in a convincing win for the Lions 18-2 with six tries.
There were only five to celebrate the 125th anniversary, but they were enough to make it five wins in a row for the Lions on tour. The only downside for Warren Gatland was an injury late in the second half to centre Jamie Roberts, which left the side playing with 14 men for the final seven minutes.
The Welshman hurt his leg in a typical charging carry and was helped off the field to join fellow centre Maun Tuilagi and wing George North on the injury list.
The Lions almost got off to a record breaking start when a wonderful pass from Jonathan Sexton put Jonathan Davies into space and the Welsh centre sent debutant wing Simon Zebo free 30 metres out.
It was a straight foot race to the left corner, but as he stretched to score, so the covering Drew Mitchell just did enough to force one of his feet onto the touchline and the Lions were denied a try after a mere 43 seconds.
That move showed the attacking intent and it didn’t take long for the first points, and then the first try, to come. Leigh Halfpenny made it 15 from 16 attempts at goal on tour with a fourth minute penalty from one metre inside the home half and then the full back played a key role in the opening try two minutes later.
It was the Welsh full back’s deep kick into the home 22, and hard chase, that led to him charging down the clearance and forcing a loose kick down field. The ball was quickly returned through Sean Maitland and Zebo and Davies made the break to send Sexton racing the length of the 22 for the opening try.
Halfpenny’s touchline conversion made it 10-0 after only six minutes and the breakneck speed of the opening didn’t stop there. With both teams flying into the tackles and the breakdown there were plenty of turnovers and attacking opportunities.
A strong, and what looked late, tackle on Sexton by the giant Waratahs lock Will Skelton left the Irish outside half in a heap in the middle of the field and as the Lions’ medics ran on to attend to him, so the home side quickly took their line-out throw just outside the 22.
The ball was thrown back into the 22 to Mitchell who handed on to Bernard Foley. The outside half kicked cross field and left wing Cam Crawford raced onto the ball in acres of space. The wing brushed off Maitland’s tackle and then passed inside to the supporting Tom Carter as Halfpenny hauled him down.
The centre raced to the left corner for a try that covered 80 metres from start to finish and scrum half Brendan McKibbin added the conversion. That score got the big home crowd going and the Lions found themselves under increasing pressure as the half wore on.
The excellent Mitchell, who is heading to Heineken Cup champions Toulon next season, inspired most of the Waratahs back line moves and the home side continued to make gains wide out.
Not that the Lions defence was ever seriously breached. The work that Andy Farrell has done with the squad has meant they had only conceded five tries in four games coming into this match and they pounded the boys in blue as they tried to make ground.
Two more Halfpenny penalties took his tally for the tour over the 50 point mark in only his third appearance and then McKibbin responded with a 45 metre kick for the Waratahs.
But the Lions had the final word in the half when strong approach work from the forwards, with the outstanding locks Paul O’Connell and Alun Wyn Jones leading the way, paved the way for an overlap try out wide by Halfpenny. The conversion inevitably went through the posts and the Lions went into the break with a 23-10 lead.
The home side came out all guns blazing at the start of the second half, but found themselves running into a red brick wall. Then the Lions forwards turned on the power to reach the 22 and give the back line the chance to show their creativity,
Sexton used Jamie Roberts as the battering ram and he offloaded to Davies who sent Halfpenny racing over for his second try. His conversion took his match tally to 25 points in a mere 44 minutes.
If that was the good side of the Lions, the bad side was revealed moments later from the kick-off. Zebo and Jamie Heaslip left the ball to each other and the Lions conceded a penalty in their 22. The Waratahs kicked to the corner and conjured up a second try for centre Carter from the ensuing line-out, which McKibbin improved.
The Waratahs maintained their high nuisance value and were always looking for a counter attack. But it was the Lions who kept the scoreboard rolling when Halfpenny added another penalty and then converted a try by Tom Croft.
A Davies interception near half-way got the ball back for the Lions and then some quick passing allowed the Leicester Tigers flanker to gallop 30 metres for another outstanding score. Halfpenny added the conversion and left the field as one of six replacements on the hour with a perfect eight out of eight kicks at goal and an individual tally of 30 points – four more than Ronan O’Gara scored against Western Australia in Perth in 2001.
Where Halfpenny led, so replacement outside half Owen Farrell followed as he converted Davies’ try wide out on the left after further good pressure by the forwards. Another win, another step up in performance and everything is building towards a great Test series.

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