The first Test match on Saturday is the first real test the Lions face on tour. The Australian club scene has put up little resistance to the touring party. After five matches only the Brumbies managed to notch up a win, beating an under strength Lions team on Tuesday as Warren Gatland opted to rest his starting fifteen. The Wallabies will be a different kettle of fish.
I think the Lions will win tomorrow, but there are *ahem* areas of concern.
Alex Corbisiero – Brought in as a loose head replacement for the injured Cian Healey, Corbisiero has made little impression in the warm up games, and has looked far less impressive than Mako Vunipola. The only logical reason for Gatland’s selection could be a wish to introduce Vunipola as an impact sub to create havoc in the loose for the final twenty minutes or so. Should the Wallabies win the first scrum of the match, even Gatland will know that his gamble has failed.
The Lineout – The throwing of Alex Hibbard and Rory Best in the warms ups left Gatland with no choice but to select Tom Youngs at hooker. Over the six matches played the Lions have won 51 lineouts and lost 17, meaning that one in three lineouts are going to the opposition. However the stats are slightly misleading: the Lion’s greatest lineout weapon Paul O’Connell has barely caught a ball (seven Lions have caught more than him) in an effort to keep the Australian coaching staff in the dark.
The Centre – Injuries to Jamie Roberts and Manu Tuilagi have forced Gatland to select Jonathan Davies at inside centre. Ordinarily selected at 13, Davies will have a steep learning curve to fulfil the battering ram role designed by Gatland for the tour. As a rangey all-rounder, Davies will depend on the two Irish men flanking him for support. However should either Jonathan Sexton or Brian O’Driscoll fail to perform in their attacking duties, the Lions will be in trouble.
Wide Australian play – There are rumours that the Aussies could switch to spinning the ball wide (ala the Brumbies on Tuesday) which could test the Lions on both wings. With Alex Cuthbert’s defence a perennial subject of conversation and George North coming off a hamstring injury, the Lions could struggle against fast attacking play. However the Lions might well be able to take advantage of any expansive Australian play through the open field territory kicking of Halfpenny and the counter attacking pace of both Cuthbert and North.
The Bench – No Conor Murray, no Sean O’Brien. Talk about impact players…. Their exclusion defies logic.
The Aussies – They’ve been warming up behind closed doors; they’ve been written off by the English press; they’ve waited twelve years to revenge losing to the Lions in Brisbane because of Brian O’Driscoll’s genius. They will not go down without a fight.
Video: Rugby Media