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Friday 3 February 2023 Dublin: 10°C
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The winners and losers after the Lions 5-star win over Melbourne Rebels
The queue for the backline replacements is getting ridiculously long.

Winners

Manu Tuilagi was forced to watch the last two and a half weeks of Lions action from the sidelines. The England and Leicester Tigers star was in fantastic form going into the tour and gave a promising glimpse of a midfield pairing with Brian O’Driscoll as they teamed up well against Western Force.

He reminded supporters, teammates and coaches that he still has a part to play in the Test Series with a superb display today. He constantly broke the first line of defence, linked up well with Simon Zebo a few times, made 11 carries and set off on a rampage up the left flank that left four Rebels for dead. The heave upfield eventually led to Sean Maitland’s try.

Simon Zebo was the other outstanding back on show and gave his team and attacking spark. The supporters – both Rebels and Lions – buzzed with excitement when he got the ball. Could have put his head down and taken a try after Tuilagi’s break but unselfishly found Maitland in support, and space, for the second try. Coup-de-grace was a high leap and claim of a Garryowen before he swatted a back-hand offload to Tuilagi.

Owen Farrell has taken a lot of flak in the past year yet remains the best back-up option to Jonny Sexton and a very, very good player. The 21-year-old proved he could play a flatter line and revelled in free-licence the backline was given, particularly in the first half. His kicking remains near flawless as he popped over another three dicey-looking conversions to go 19 from 20 on tour.

Losers

Harsh to judge any of the starting XV as losers but this could well be the last time, barring injuries of a 2-0 lead after Saturday, that we see many of these players.

Rob Kearney did all he had to, again, as fullback but was never tested with the aerial duels he loves so much. Tuilagi and Brad Barritt took on a lot of ball and Kearney often found himself in support but operating in tight quadrants of space.

Rob Kearney is slowly getting back to full speed. (©INPHO/Dan Sheridan)

Kearney’s ball-handling and link-up play was impeccable but his kicking from hand was not punishing enough, often punting straight down the middle of the park. Walked gingerly from play with 20 minutes to go. He may well take Sean Maitland’s place on the bench but faces competition from Tommy Bowe, Stuart Hogg and Zebo.

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Dan Cole is one man guaranteed of a spot on the sub’s bench at the weekend but he did little in open play to threaten the starting role of tighthead Adam Jones. Was part of a scrum that dominated in the opening stages before the Rebels readjusted. Spurned a glorious try chance when he spilled a Conor Murray pass with the tryline two metres away. Ian Evans jumped well in the lineout but looks to have lost out to Richie Gray as second row back-up for the Second Test.

Back row

Sean O’Brien [try, 10 carries], Dan Lydiate [16 tackles] and Toby Faletau [16 carries for 60 metres] all pressed their claims for Test 23 inclusion but only Lydiate may make the cut. O’Brien was guilty of forcing the issue in the first half but scored a fine try and should have had another if it not for a wayward Maitland pass.

What do you think? What players stood out for you?

As it happened: Lions v Melbourne Rebels, 2013 Tour

Sky Sports forced to apologise as pissed off O’Brien lets rip after Lions win

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