The Lions kept it simple in the line-out against the Waratahs yesterday, using Jamie Heaslip and Tom Croft at the front, Paul O’Connell hardly at all, and only once going to the tail, when Richard Hibbard overthrew beyond Sam Warburton near the end. The Wallabies will attack hard here. Referees are getting on Mako Vunipola’s case for not scrummaging straight and the absence of Cian Healy, injured, and Andy Sheridan, not even selected, may yet haunt the Lions.
If it comes down to penalties and conversions, the Lions can bank on the astonishing Leigh Halfpenny, who simply does not look like missing. The Wallabies’ James O’Connor, if he is given the role, is not in the same class.
Sam Warburton found his groove in Sydney yesterday, with able back-up from Tom Croft, but could the Lions do with another full-on forager – Sean O’Brien perhaps? Southern hemisphere referees Chris Pollock and Craig Joubert will handle the First and Second Tests; they tend to ping players going beyond the tackle, preventing quick ball. The Lions must be accurate for 80 minutes.
The Lions have been playing while the Wallabies have been training (coach Robbie Deans). Best use of players from the bench could be crucial for the tourists, as their reserve front five seem capable of causing damage. But a greater danger may be Australia letting rip in the opening 20 minutes.
The funniest thing to emerge from the tour to date is Warburton’s tweet of Dan Lydiate getting his hair cut in a fancy salon. Hmm. But this isn’t a series of stand-up comedy gigs. The Lions’ team spirit looks good. It will need to be against possibly the gutsiest group in world rugby.
Alun Wyn Jones may not have an obvious mean streak but he stood up to all the Waratahs’ roughing-up yesterday and kept tackling. Australia will defend with cohesion while the Lions must guard against the hosts’ brilliant ball-players outflanking their blitz in the wide channels. Other areas need tightening up after yesterday’s try conceded from a line-out drive and a short throw that caught the Lions napping.
Sam Warburton was picked in part for his affinity with referees, notably Craig Joubert, and the captain was quietly in the ear of Jaco Peyper yesterday. But Australia’s James Horwill doesn’t look the type easily ruffled. Two good men who are about to face the ultimate test of leadership.