The British and Irish Lions 2013 Tour of Australia has been a largely successful one so far, with coach Warren Gatland’s men routinely dispatching teams such as the Western Force and the NSW Waratahs. Their unbeaten run has come at a cost though – five matches have resulted in a number of causalities, forcing Gatland to fly in emergency call-ups such as Billy Twelvetrees and Shane Williams to reinforce the Lions squad for the remainder of their tour of Australia.
The Lions are set for the first of a three Test series against the Wallabies at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane on 22 June, with the second a week later at the Etihad Stadium in Melbourne, and the last on July 6 at the ANZ Stadium in Sydney. Reds skipper James Horwill has been handed the captains band for the first test, and it will be interesting to see how Australia coach Robbie Deans’ men will perform against the unbeaten Lions. Particularly what strategies Deans would employ to give them a run for their money.
So how can the Wallabies beat the Lions?
Exploiting the Lions backline was a tactic that proved fruitful for the Reds despite their loss, and the Wallabies would be hard-pressed to do the same. With the absence of Irish winger Tommy Bowe (broken hand), and several relatively untested backs such as Sean Maitland and Simon Zebo, the Wallabies should look to their veteran backline to dominate their less-experienced counterparts. Being quick off the breakdown and prohibiting attacking plays will be crucial in keeping pressure on Jonathan Sexton and Leigh Halfpenny; this will ensure that the Lions would have to rely on their understrength forwards to provide the bulk of their offensive. Stretching the attack wide might also be a possible strategy; the Lions forwards would have to cover more ground which would therefore tire them out early.
English rugby has always been known for their hardworking forwards and brute physicality, with veteran Irishman Rory Best being phenomenal in leading the forward pack so far. Countering them will not be easy; the Lions forwards are known for being able to provoke their counterparts into making mistakes and giving away penalties. The Wallabies would have to be careful not to give too many penalties away, with Halfpenny proving to be a marksman at the posts. It’s simple rugby – if you give away two easy penalties, you have to score a much harder converted try just to compensate. If the Australian forward pack does not keep their discipline at the breakdown and in scrums, we just might see the Lions win by penalty kicks.
It would also be interesting to see if uncapped Wallaby Israel Folau gets a chance against the Lions, having missed the earlier Waratahs vs. Lions clash in Sydney. The Waratahs fullback has been in remarkable form during his debut Super Rugby season so far, and hopefully he will be given a opportunity to contribute his expertise in fast counterattacks.
Perhaps the most noticeable absentee from the Wallabies backline is prolific Reds fly-half Quade Cooper. Ironically, Cooper was the first one who pointed out that the Lions’ achilles heel was in their struggling back-line, and played a role in orchestrating many flamboyant attacks that picked out weaknesses in the Lions back-line at Suncorp Stadium. Coach Robbie Deans did not go into specifics as to why he chose to omit the mercurial fly-half from the squad, preferring only to hint that Cooper might be called up if injuries arise. This probably couldn’t be any better for the Lions; defensive coach Andy Farrell mentioning Cooper as a ‘bloody good player’ and was delighted that the Lions would not be facing him. Was this a good decision by Deans? Many say no, but we’ll see.
Kurtley Beale and James O’ Connor are potential candidates for the No.10 jersey, although the money would be on O’ Connor as fly-half and Beale as fullback. There will be immense pressure on Beale to justify his call-up, having struggled with form as of late as well as dealing with off-field issues and counselling sessions. However, Robbie Deans has reiterated his support for Beale, and believes that he will be able to leave his demons behind and perform.
In short, it will be an exciting night of rugby. Game on!
My pick for the starting Wallabies line-up:
- Benn Robinson
- Saia Faingaa
- Ben Alexander
- Rob Simmons
- James Horwill (Captain)
- Michael Hooper
- Ben McCalman
- Wycliff Palu
- Will Genia
- James O’ Connor
- Digby Ioane
- Rob Horne
- Christian Leali’ifano
- Adam Ashley-Cooper
- Israel Folau