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'I'll take that to start with' says Halfpenny after Lions kicking masterclass

Plenty of seven-pointers from Warren Gatland’s men and 11-from-11 for the unerring Welsh fullback.

Leigh Halfpenny
Leigh Halfpenny
Image: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

LIONS COACH WARREN GATLAND admitted, after his side put Western Force side to the sword, that he often asked ‘Who the heck are we going to pick’ as a starting XV for the Test series.

After Leigh Halfpenny’s amazing kicking performance today, the fullback slot has been officially claimed for the First Test against Australia.

The Welshman, selected ahead of Jonny Sexton to goal-kick, slotted over 11 kicks from 11 during his side’s 69-17 victory over Western Force at Patersons Stadium in Perth. Six of his kicks were from either the right or left touchline and were all sweetly struck.

His covering defence was good throughout and on the one occasion that he was outpaced, chasing a grubber kick into his 22, the fantastic Sean O’Brien was on hand to clean up. Speaking to Sky Sports post-match, Halfpenny said, “I’m really pleased with that. I’ll take that to start with.” He added:

It doesn’t stop there. Today was pretty special but when I get back to the training pitch, the [kicking] work continues. I’ll get on with the work I usually do, day-in, day-out.”

Halfpenny paid credit to kicking coach Neil Jenkins – a star of the 2001 Lions Tour – for his positive influence. “I can’t think of anyone better to be bringing the kicking tee and giving pointers before a kick.”

With the kicking duties falling to Halfpenny, Sexton concentrated on merging a backline with clever passes and kicks. The Racing Metro outhalf chipped in with the opening try after feigning an inside pass, fooling Brett Sheehan and jogging over for the opening score.

Jonny Sexton celebrates his first ever Lions try. (©INPHO/Dan Sheridan)

Sheehan then held up proceedings by alleging he was bit by Cian Healy. An inconclusive TMO followed but the matter will no doubt be revisited on numerous occasions by the Australia media. Healy was taken off on a medical cart after twisting his ankle but Gatland confirmed that the prop did not suffer a break. He is off to a Perth hospital for further scans.

The Lions second tour game followed the first in its development as the tourists ground down the opposition in the first half before cutting loose after the break. Jamie Heaslip, Brian O’Driscoll (twice) and Tommy Bowe were the other Irish scorers on a day when nine tries were allowed by the Super Rugby franchise.

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Head coach Warren Gatland described the comprehensive win as ‘a good work-out’ and added that his side are getting up to speed with the southern hemisphere interpretation of the breakdown; what is allowed and what is being penalised. Asked for a stand-out player, Gatland’s first thought was for the Welsh fullback he has coached, for one team or another, for five years.

He said, “I thought the goalkicking was pretty special. He didn’t get many easy ones, did he?”

Gatland will be hoping that the upcoming games, particularly the warm-ups against Queensland Reds and the Waratahs, will be more challenging but, Halfpenny aside, the Test XV does not get any clearer.

As it happened: Lions v Western Force, 2013 Tour

Biting allegations against Healy but injury may have ended tour early

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Patrick McCarry

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