Rugby-Lions answered Australia's fitness challenge, says Gatland
MELBOURNE, June 25
MELBOURNE, June 25 (Reuters) - The British and Irish Lions are in "good shape" physically leading into Saturday's all-important second test against Australia in Melbourne, and the Wallabies found that out in the bruising opener at Lang Park, coach Warren Gatland said.
The Lions cantered to a 35-0 win over the Melbourne Rebels in their final non-test tour match on Tuesday to generate momentum heading into the weekend's clash at Docklands Stadium.
While the 'dirt-trackers' won plaudits for their clinical demolition of the Super Rugby strugglers at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium, Gatland said the 'first' team had proven their endurance in their heart-stopping 23-21 win in Brisbane on Saturday.
"We know we're in a good shape physically, we know we're fit," Gatland told reporters.
"I think the Australians, the way they played on Saturday, they tried to ask questions of us in terms of conditioning.
"That question was answered well and truly. They found out we were pretty fit and in pretty good nick, too."
The midweek Lions suffered a couple of knocks during their one-sided rout of the Rebels, but appeared to come out unscathed in contrast to the brutal contest at Lang Park.
That match left Irish lock Paul O'Connell with a broken arm and prop Alex Corbisiero in doubt for the second test with a calf strain.
The Lions' casualties paled next to their opponents, however, with three of the Wallabies' backline players taken off on stretchers by just after halftime.
Gatland said Welsh centre Jamie Roberts, who missed the first test with a hamstring strain, remained in doubt for the second test.
But the New Zealander would be encouraged by the performance of Englishman Manu Tuilagi who sparked the Lions' first two tries against the Gareth Delve-captained Rebels with a couple of blistering line breaks.
Gatland was also heartened by Scotland lock Richie Gray, who had played his "best game" of the tour against the Rebels, and singled out New Zealand-born flyer Sean Maitland and prop Richard Hibbard for praise in the five-try romp.
Other midweek players would be likely to have their chance for the two remaining tests, Gatland said.
"There's still an opportunity for people to be involved and we know there's two games and you look at the attritional rate from last Saturday and there's bound to be a few more injuries before now and the final test," he said.
"These guys have been fantastic ambassadors for the four home unions and everyone back home should be proud of how they've conducted themselves on and off the field."
(Editing by Josh Reich)
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