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Lions roar after Carter blitz

Photograph by Blair SimmonsHelping hands: Lions dominate the line-out against Italy during the opening game of the World Rugby Classic at the North Field

A three-try blitz by Welsh flier Richard Carter propelled the Classic Lions to a convincing first-round victory brimming with as much backline sparkle as forward grit.

Carter, who parted company with Welsh side Aberavon in controversial circumstances after opting to travel to Bermuda, was at the heart of a scintillating Lions display that proved too much for a spirited Italian side in the opening game of this year’s World Rugby Classic.

It was the 33-year-old winger’s pace, sidestep and eye for a gap that sent the defending champions on their way when he launched a thrilling break from his own 22 after a promising start from the Azzurri.

From the resulting line-out the pink-shirted forward pack kept it tight, slowly rumbling towards the Italian line, for James Cockle to pounce across the white wash from close range.

With the wind at their backs Italy came roaring back again, sending big, burly ball carriers careering into the heart of the Lions’ defensive line, only for Ceri Sweeney to pick up a sucker punch of an interception on the half way and canter home beneath the posts.

Just before the break Carter added to the Italian’s woes as he turned finisher to touch down for his first try after some powerful and deft work in the midfield from Gareth King.

The Lions were well worth their 17-0 lead at half-time, especially given the strength of the head wind they faced.

Any thought that the Italians would roll over in the second half was quickly extinguished by Italy’s, Lissandro Villagra, who pierced the Lions’ defences with a blistering break that ultimately resulted in his side’s first points.

After a couple of minutes of intense pressure Benjamin de Jager was denied a certain try in the corner by a high tackle, giving the referee little option but to award the Italians a penalty try.

The conversion was duly added and the Italians were right back in the game at 17-7.

That was at least until the twinkling feet of Welsh legend Shane Williams began to conjure some old tricks.

Despite being on the receiving end of a monster hit from Italian stalwart Martin Castrogiovanni, Williams postured and skipped around defenders making space for those around him.

With 15 minutes to play Williams dodged one tackle, stepped inside another and set Carter tearing off towards the line for his second try, which Sweeney converted.

It was not long before Carter was galloping free again to register a deserved hat-trick, although this one was all of his own making.

The conversion took the Lions to unassailable 31-7 lead, but this is not a team to rest on its laurels.

Perhaps still spurred on by a stirring minute’s silence for Munster-man Anthony Foley, a former Classic Lions captain of 2009 and 2010, who died suddenly last month at the age of 42, the Lions came again.

Some fatigued sides may have looked for the refuge of touch with time up on the clock, but not this backline.

They surged up the middle of the park with the last play off the game and after some nifty off-loads Spencer Brown made the most of a clear run to the posts to push his side to an impressive 38-7 victory.

The Classic Lions stock of 2016 has a pack full of proven performers and if they can continue to give the deadly Welsh trio of Williams, Carter and Sweeney ball on the front foot this team will fancy their chances of retaining the Classic title.

Last night’s confident and clinical performance was the ideal way to start that campaign.

• Lions will face South Africa, who defeated Canada 17-14 yesterday, in the semi-finals on Wednesday.

Monty Dumond grabbed a pair of tries for South Africa who were made to work for victory over a bellicose Canada.

Robin McDowell and Trevor MacCauley registered tries for the Canadians.

Mark Wood, the South Africa coach, heaped praise on Canada and said his side never felt comfortable of victory.

“I thought Canada played exceptionally well,” Wood said. “Every year they seem to be improving and all around world rugby the so-called minnows are improving.

“We had to dig deep today and show some character. At no point did I think we had won it. At no stage did we feel like we were in the comfort zone.

“This was our first game together and this character will take us into our next game.”

Tonight’s matches will pit Argentina against the United States at 7.15pm, while France take on New Zealand at 8.30pm.