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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
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

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific