Dave Gantly talks about the all-important Third Test between The Lions and Australia, as the rugby world deals with the aftershock of Brian O’ Driscoll’s shock omission.
It has been billed by Sky Sports as The Decider. Winner takes all. Lose and the future of the Lions tour will be brought very much in to question. It just cannot be that it could possibly go to twenty years without a test series triumph. Take in to account that the next tour is due to take place in the mighty fortress that is New Zealand and it does not look good for the Lions.
In the two tests so far, the Lions have been very disappointing. After all the hype about the strength of the squad (in particular the backrow) they have failed to deliver on the biggest stage. Yes, the injuries which have decimated the squad cannot be ignored – Paul O’Connell, Cian Healy, Gethin Jenkins and now Captain Sam Warburton joining a very long casualty list. After all the talk about the pre test warm up games being pointless in terms of preparation, you can now start to see why. The Brumbies aside, each game was very much one-sided and is not ideal going in to such a crucial test series. Rumours of future Lions tours having less pre test games and more emphasis on the test series is certainly one aspect the organisers could look at. That would certainly help ease the amount of injuries on tour.
In terms of team selection for this weekend’s test series decider, there is only one place to start – the omission of Brian O’Driscoll from the match day 23. A shocking decision by Gatland. A massive gamble. You can argue that last weekend the Ireland centre did not have his greatest game, but before Jamie Roberts got injured, he wasn’t exactly setting the world alight on tour. However, he is known to rise for the big occasions and I’m sure this would have been very much in Gatland’s thoughts. But back to the omission of the greatest centre of his generation – when you take in to account the loss of leaders Paul O’Connell and Sam Warburton, the exclusion of the last real leader in the side is truly baffling. In what would have been O’Driscoll’s last outing in the red jersey, he would have done everything in his power to claim that coveted test series win. Now he must watch from the stands as the Lions go to battle in Sydney.
The inclusion of Roberts should give a near full Wales team the go forward ball they have been starved of. Lets hope Jonathan Davies can take advantage of this after a relatively quiet performance by him in the last two weeks. He does have Manu Tuilagi breathing down his neck, ready to be summoned from the bench if needs be. The return of Mike Phillips is not too surprising considering his experience and his undoubted quality. He surely has a big game left in him but Munster’s Conor Murray can count himself very unlucky he is not gracing the starting XV this weekend. He has been the most consistent performer of the three scrumhalves on tour and deserved the nine jersey. His passing is one component of his game that looks to have improved vastly whilst on tour and he is a great option from the bench. He just doesn’t seem fazed and his cameo off the bench last Saturday illustrated that.
Alex Corbisiero’s return from injury is a massive boost, particularly with Mako Vunipola’s performance in the scrum last weekend. If the Lions are to be successful this weekend, the scrum is one major component that will have to improve vastly. Wales hooker Richard Hibbard takes over from Tom Youngs to give the Lions more ball carriers around the park. Hibbard’s throwing on this tour has been suspect at the best of times and now without O’Connell’s leadership, the lineout is very worrying.
Sean O’Brien’s inclusion is very exciting to see. Gatland could have went like for like, replacing Warburton with another groundhog in Justin Tipuric. But O’Brien’s ball carrying skills and his work at the breakdown has swung it just in his favour. It’s been a long time coming for the ‘’Tullow Tank’’ and he will be chomping at the bit come Saturday.
Jamie Heaslip has been dealt the same fate as his Ireland team-mate O’Driscoll in dropping out of the matchday 23. Heaslip had been solid in the first and second test with some good ball carrying but handing Faletau the no 8 jersey may just be the right call to freshen things up in the pack.
Richie Gray finally gets his chance to prove his worth, included on the bench and in line to make his test debut. His ball carrying and sheer size at the lineout could prove invaluable if he is called in to action.
Can I also just say the decision to reject the IRB’s appeal against James Horwill’s foul play is farcical. TV replays clearly show Horwill stamping on Alun Wyn Jones’s head. If that isn’t serious foul play, what is? It will be an interesting coin toss this weekend with Alun Wyn Jones having been chosen to lead out the Lions. He has only ever captained Wales once, in a victory over Italy. This just highlights the lack of leaders yet again in the Lions team. The Aussies will not be intimidated. When you have Paul O’Connell and Brian O’Driscoll in your team, it’s another story.
For the Lions to be victorious in Sydney on Saturday, you would hope to see them become more adventurous in the backline. Lets hope Jonny Sexton at flyhalf can perform his role as chief orchestrator to the best of his ability; Roberts and co can do the rest. Tommy Bowe needs to be brought in to the game more in comparison to last week, making smart runs in to midfield when the opportunity arises. George North is another who the Lions will look too, having been one of the most impressive performers on tour. A repeat of his exploits in the first test would do just nicely.
In terms of the forwards, lets hope Gatland’s rejigging has the desired effect and that they can gain a foothold over the Aussies pack. You would hope to see the likes of O’Brien and Faletau tearing in to the Aussies line, gaining momentum for the Lions backline to cause havoc. This has been mostly absent in the test series so far.
Will Gatland regret his massive call to drop Brian O’Driscoll? Can the Lion make it a first test series victory in 16 years? We will see this Saturday.
Time for the Lions to finally roar.
Sport Is Everything. Dave Gantly.