Jammy Lions beat Hapless Wallabies

It’s a win but unless they pick it up the Lions will be beaten off the park in games two and three. Here are the reason why:

Goalkicking – While Leigh Halfpenny put in an excellent performance making five of his six kicks, the Australians missed five of their nine efforts seeing 14 points go a begging. Whatever about James O’Connor’s three misses, Kurtley Beale’s two missed kicks in the final five minutes were unforgivable and cost Australia the game. The Australians should remedy their goalkicking before the next Test.

Lineout – Although neither side lost a lineout in the match, the Lions were extremely conservative in their throwing. Only going to the back of the lineout once in the match (a wobbly low thing which O’Connell did well to hold on to) prevented the Lions from releasing their backline off the set piece. All week rumour had it the Lions were holding their lineout cards close to their chest; however this performance shows they have held nothing special in reserve.

The scrum – Warren Gatland was vindicated in his selection of Alex Corbisiero at loose head with the Lions enjoying a healthy dominance in scrum for the first 50 minutes. However the replacement of all three front rowers in the second half was a disastrous move by the coach with the Lions losing a crucial scrum on the Wallabies five metre line and then another in the dying moments; the former deflated the Lions’ momentum while the latter should have cost them the game were it not for Beale to miss a relatively simple kick.

The bench – Quite apart from the disaster of the front row replacements, Ben Youngs was poor following his introduction in the 62nd minute and must shoulder some responsibility for the failure to retain possession from the scrum. Geoff Parling made little impression when introduced for the final ten minutes to replace the exausted Alun Wyn Jones. Gatland will have to rethink his options on the bench to rival the Australian numbers 16-22 for the next Test.

Focus – The Lions’ were caught out badly in the first half for both of Israel Folau’s tries; the first came from a simple tap and go from Will Genia while Jonathan Sexton and Sam Warburton missed open field tackles on Folau in the second. After Cuthbert’s try put the Lions up by eight points in the 49th minute the Lions’ intensity dropped leaving the door open for an Australian comeback. Warburton failed to rally his troops in the latter half of the game and were it not for the outstanding Alun Wyn Jones, Tom Croft and Paul O’Connell the Australians would have rumbled over for tries at the death.

The midfield didn’t work – Jonathan Davies did his best playing out of position at inside centre but he did not have he power to blast through centre as Gatland intended either Jamie Roberts or Manu Tuilagi might. Rather than change the game plan to accommodate Davies’ all-round ability (either by spin ball wide or by using the backrow as primary ball carriers), Gatland stuck to the power-12-crash-ball plan and almost came unstuck.

There was also a failure on the pitch to execute Gatland’s desire to have the 6 foot 4 inch wingers North and Cuthbert enter the midfield, a point which annoyed Stuart Barnes on Sky Sports commentary: “Why are they using the main tour placekicker Halfpenny through the middle when you have two big wingers on the pitch?!”, an exasperated Barnes complained midway through the second half.

Brian O’Driscoll was also disappointed with the failure of North and Cuthbert to involve themselves more in the game. When questioned after the match by a breathless and effusively sycophantic Will Greenwood about the Welsh duo, a slightly irritated O’Driscoll replied: “Obviously it’s fantastic [to have them on the wing] but, I think if everyone runs the right lines there are opportunities – when you’ve got guys the size of those two running down the twelve and thirteen channel then people will start marking them. Maybe they’ll come good in games two and three.”

Australian injuries had little effect on the Wallabies – In spite of losing three key backs and having to play a flanker in the centre for over half an hour, the Australian strength in depth was far superior to the Lions. The Wallabies rode their luck, played the game, and left the whinging about injuries to the Northern Hemisphere journos. Rewatching the tape the Australian team will learn much of what to expect from the Lions for the second Test.


First Test for Lions

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