Brain Smith: At squeaky bum time new Lions skipper Alun Wyn Jones will be wavering

Expect Wyn Jones to look for advice because he won’t be confident enough

There was one moment in Melbourne last weekend that exposed the difference in philosophy between the Lions and the Wallabies – one moment that went to the heart of the matter and may resonate at close of play in Sydney today.

It was the decision of the Australian captain, James Horwill, to scrum a penalty deep in the last 10 minutes rather than shoot for the sticks. Here was a captain prepared to go for broke rather than settle for something shared. Here was a bloke bold enough to make the big call.

It was not the only big call of the last few days – decisions don’t come much bigger than Warren Gatland’s selection of a midfield combination without Brian O’Driscoll’s name at the hub of it – but it was hugely significant. Six points down with as many minutes left, the Wallabies used that scrum to manufacture a match-winning try for Adam Ashley-Cooper and deny the Lions the series victory they were beginning to feel was theirs. Brave? I can’t recall anything more courageous in recent times.

The question is this: would the Lions have made that call had the boot been on the other foot? I doubt it. And now that O’Driscoll has joined Sam Warburton and Paul O’Connell on the sidelines, the doubt is even stronger. Alun Wyn Jones, a Lions captain for the day, may be faced with just such a conundrum. If he is, his nerves will be in shreds. Expect him to look to the touchline for advice, because he won’t be too confident about shouldering the responsibility alone.

The Lions want to “squeeze” the game at scrum and breakdown with some serious physicality, kick their penalties – they have Leigh Halfpenny’s boot in their armoury, after all – and scuttle off in to the night having edged it by a fraction.

The Wallabies are sufficiently sure of themselves to try something more adventurous and I take them to win by a single score. It will be tight, I’m convinced of that. The Australians are favourites, but when the occasion is this fraught, it’s often better to go in as the underdog. If the Lions can cramp the Wallabies’ style and force them into the kinds of back-line errors they were making for much of last week’s match, the gremlin in the Aussie brain will start making its presence felt.

Was Gatland right to do away with O’Driscoll? I can see a good deal of logic in it. The Lions want an attacking pattern based on Mike Phillips and Jamie Roberts combining off clean ball from the back of the line-out. Once we establish that it is Roberts who has done for O’Driscoll and not Jonathan Davies – who has been the pick of the centres – it all fits. Besides, O’Driscoll has not been the same since being refereed out of the Brisbane Test by Chris Pollock.

The public’s view of leadership is old-fashioned. There’s a lot of talk about O’Driscoll the talisman and he’s been one hell of an inspiration to a lot of teams. But the idea of one man running the show in the way a cricket captain does is well off-beam. This is an 80-minute thing with the ground prepared in a dozen briefings and umpteen hours of analysis. A lot of the game will be played to a pattern. There could be the odd “Horwill moment”, but there won’t be many.

The line-out area is crucial to the Lions but the Wallabies will be confident of handling things there. Their concern is the scrum. I’ve spent some time with my fellow Australians this week and they think the Lions are illegal at the set piece.

They think the Lions are wheeling deliberately on the  loose-head side in an effort to milk penalties from the referee, and I’ll be astonished if they haven’t been in to the Frenchman Romain Poite on the subject. Poite will have some big calls of his own to make today – calls that could easily decide  the outcome.


Follow live updates of Australia v British and Irish Lions by clicking HERE.


Suggested Topics
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'