Australia’s captain, James Horwill, is “expecting the unexpected” from the Lions today and believes the tourists have some tricks “up their sleeves” for the first Test.
The Wallabies’ coach, Robbie Deans, has shielded his entire Test squad from matches against the Lions for their provincial clubs to avoid injuries and build unity. This policy has the added bonus of preventing the Lions from reaching peak performance against strong sides, while affording Deans’ squad the time to stand back as a group and get a good look at the tourists’ tactics.
However, Horwill believes the Lions still have a few aces to play and has been warning his team-mates this week to prepare for a surprise. “We’ve got to expect the unexpected,” the second row said. “I don’t think they would have shown their hand fully so we have been preparing as that is the case.
“We’re certainly aware that they have not shown everything and they are certainly going to have things up their sleeves that they’ve been holding for this game in particular.”
Australia have not exactly jumped out of the blocks at the start of the last two international seasons, something Horwill and scrum-half Will Genia are determined to rectify in Brisbane today.
The Wallabies’ 2011 international campaign opened with a second-string team embarrassed in a shocking 32-23 loss to Samoa in Sydney and also included an unprecedented defeat to Ireland in the World Cup group stage.
It did not get better in 2012 when they lost to Scotland 9-6 in driving rain and a howling wind in Newcastle north of Sydney at the start of the season, a stoppage-time penalty goal giving the Scots their first win in three decades in Australia.
With his Wallabies coaching career on the line against the Lions, New Zealander Deans has taken a much more cautious approach to the once-every-dozen years tour by the combined British and Irish team by keeping his top players in camp.
“It just comes down to preparation,” Genia said. “We’ve been lucky enough we were afforded the luxury of two weeks leading up to this Test week, so we’ve made the most of every training session, every opportunity to bond well as a team. That’s been a big focus for us – just to make sure that we buy into the way we want to play.”
Genia thinks Deans has struck the right balance in his team to face the Lions. “The way the back line is at the moment, we’ve got three or four playmakers within that group,” the 25-year-old said. “It probably offers us a lot more in terms of creativity and sparking a little bit more attack.”
Christian Leali’ifano at inside centre “just gives us another ball player”, Genia added. “Christian’s big strength is that he can run good lines, he can be very physical, but he’s a very creative player. He can get the ball in hand and has a really good passing game, and with Berrick Barnes at the back it gives us another couple of playmakers, guys who can step up when [fly-half] James [O’Connor] gets held up in rucks and things like that.
“We’re all very familiar with the way we want to play because I don’t think it’s changed too much over the years. We’ve been lucky that we’ve had stability with coaching – with Robbie having been here for a while – and senior players having been part of the group for a long while now.”
The Wallabies’ running game has suffered in recent seasons, with the last 15 Tests netting just 15 tries, and Genia said he expects that to change.
“We expect that [the Lions] will play an expansive style of footy, weather permitting the ball will get thrown around. I think we want to express ourselves and play as well,” he said. “The Lions have spoken all tour about wanting to come here, play some rugby and score some points and they are going to have to score tries to win. That’s the game that we can expect to see.”