Five things the Lions learned from the Reds game...
Hugh Godwin offers some pointers
1. Captain Warburton proves worthy of a place
Sam Warburton is up and running. We watched anxiously as the captain and first-time Lions tourist made his delayed debut on this trip yesterday. Would he be in the mould of a Martin Johnson in 1997 – a skipper struggling initially with injury who came through to glory – or a Ciaran Fitzgerald of 1983, starting matches by dint of his status when every pundit wanted him dropped? Warburton, so easy going in front of the media, looked tight and nervous in the pre-match pictures beamed from the changing rooms. In the game he was handed off by Luke Morahan for an early Queensland try. But he asserted himself soon enough with a turnover steal and a galloping run to within centimetres of a try. His lungs may have felt like someone was cleaning them out with wire wool, and he was cramping up after an hour, but Warburton proved himself worthy of his place.
2. A clearer picture of the Wallaby line-up
Australia and the Lions remain neck and neck in the Selection Stakes. The Wallabies have a clear run of preparation, with coach, Robbie Deans, preferring to keep his main men out of the Lions' provincial matches (a shame for the fans). The pathetic fixture clash against the weakened Western Force in midweek was a one-off, so the tourists have a clearer picture of who they can expect to meet now. Plus they are favoured by having match action. But the price to pay is injuries: two props and a wing down already.
3. Scrums and kicking are major strengths
Two areas of excellence will be feeding the Lions' confidence: scrummaging and goal-kicking. Both will be essential elements in the three Tests, the scrum to gain a front foot for Jonny Sexton and Co, the kicks to punish every penalty the tourists can eke out of their hosts at the breakdown. Between them Leigh Halfpenny and Owen Farrell have booted 17 successful kicks out of 17 in the two matches on Aussie soil – and that helps Sexton concentrate on his playmaking. The Irish fly-half, in his light and shade, is showing himself to be a Monet to Farrell's straight-line Mondrian.
4. Beware Australia's clever backs when a gap or dog-leg appears in the line
Andy Farrell is under the microscope. The Lions' defence coach unleashed a blitz defence on Queensland with perturbingly mixed results. Not every Lions wing is as spring-heeled and bright as the now injured Tommy Bowe, and whenever a dog-leg or a gap appears in the Lions' line it will have Australia's clever backs – whether their fly-half is James O'Connor, Kurtley Beale, Berrick Barnes or Quade Cooper – salivating.
5. As European standard bearers the Lions must produce more than brutal set-piece domination
We said in these pages a fortnight ago that the Lions' only goal is winning the Test series. Perhaps that needs some qualification. Players young and old are following this tour devotedly – an estimated 40,000 travelling or ex-pat punters in Oz, plus millions more at home digesting the coverage after their bacon and eggs. The Lions are the European game's standard bearers (well, don't tell the French) and we need more from them than a brutal, fatalistic, lowest-common-denominator amalgam of set-piece domination and rugby league running lines. So far, thankfully, there has been enough of a sense of style to take good care of the Lions' legacy.
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