Brian Smith: Belligerent ‘Warrenball’ approach won’t faze attitude-fuelled Aussies against Lions

Wallabies love playing sides who think they are superior... put it down to 'convict race' syndrome

Warren Gatland can be counted among the most successful coaches in the world game – there is no denying the bloke’s record – but there is not much mystery to the way his teams play. It’s a form of rugby I call “Warrenball” and if the evidence of the opening two matches on this Lions tour is anything to go by, we’ll be seeing plenty of it over the next month. I’m certainly not expecting to be catapulted from my seat in shock at the tricks the tourists pull against the Wallabies.

We saw this straightforward but highly effective strategy when Warren was winning trophies at Wasps and we’ve seen it in his time with Wales, who have nailed three titles and two Grand Slams during his spell in charge. It involves very big, extremely powerful players taking the ball round the edges and equally big, powerful wings making dents infield at a high tempo set from half-back. There may be one or two unexpected tactical flourishes from the Lions when they enter the opposition red zone but basically, this is about belligerence. They’ll be looking to outmuscle every Australian side they meet... including Australia.

The statistics tell us Warren hasn’t had much joy against the Wallabies just lately, but he won’t be worrying about that. He’ll just crack on in the knowledge that the Wallabies have been hit by injuries and are looking a little vulnerable. Players like Digby Ioane, David Pocock, Scott Higginbotham and one or two others would have been in the Aussie starting line-up had they been fit, and they’ll be missed. I can’t remember them being this light on personnel in their recent victories over Wales.

Australians exist in a southern hemisphere rugby ecosystem, alongside the New Zealanders and South Africans, and all things being equal, they are not fazed by muscle. You don’t see too many soft All Blacks or weak Springboks. There are plenty of similarities between the way the Boks play and the kind of stuff I’m expecting from the Lions. Back in the day, great Wallaby players like George Gregan and Stephen Larkham always backed themselves to be smarter than the opposition.

Will these Wallabies have that edge with a third of their team on the sidelines? That’s the question. Certainly, they’ll need to field a No 10 with a footballing range equivalent to that of the Lions outside-half Jonathan Sexton. This is the central fascination of today’s game in Queensland. We know Quade Cooper can shred opponents with his box of tricks, but we also know that Robbie Deans, the Wallaby coach, doesn’t really trust him. Will Cooper play his way on to the main stage? I’ll be watching, for sure.

Self-belief shouldn’t be a problem for the Wallabies – we Aussies are a cocky lot – and the fact that the Lions are likely to go into the first Test in Brisbane a fortnight today as raging hot favourites may be a bigger problem for them than for the Wallabies. Aussies like nothing better than playing against people who think they’re better than them. You can talk about a chip on the shoulder, put it down to the “convict race” syndrome... you can call it whatever you like, but it’s definitely there and it generally works to their advantage. On balance, I think the home side can pinch one of the first two Tests and take the whole thing down to the last 80 minutes in Sydney.

Am I expecting any surprises in the Lions line-up? Mako Vunipola, the new England prop, is making an impression and while I think Gatland will opt for loose-head experience in his starting line-up, Vunipola may be the guy to come off the bench and change the world. Also, I can see Brian O’Driscoll being on the field for the start of the Test series. This may not sound like much of a shock, but I thought initially that Gatland might simply pick the biggest back line in history by pairing Jamie Roberts and Manu Tuilagi at centre. I’ve shifted on this one. The sight of massive, muscular wings steaming into midfield leads me to suspect that the Irish grand master will get his wish on his last Lions tour.

I must also say that I’m pretty tired of hearing everyone have a go at Michael Foley, the Western Force coach who fielded a “half and half” side against the Lions in Perth on Wednesday. The way I look at it, Blind Freddie could have told you he wouldn’t pick his strongest team. The Force are down towards the bottom of the Super 15 log, the win-loss ratio is staring at Michael from the office wall and he has a game this weekend against the Waratahs, the side he left at the end of last season after a really difficult year. Put all that together, and it was obvious he would go conservative in selection.

People are talking about “disrespect” to the tourists, but there are plenty of others we can look at in this regard. Why unload everything on Michael at a time when everyone wants their pound of flesh out of the Lions, including the Lions? What was Hong Kong about if it wasn’t about people cashing in? OK, the Force game was a disappointing event: even I almost switched over at half-time. But it’s over now. Today’s game in Queensland is a different thing entirely. The tour starts here.

Arts and Entertainment
Sheeran arrives at the 56th annual Grammy Awards earlier this year
musicYes, that would be Ed Sheeran, according to the BBC
Sport
Rio Ferdinand, Alan Shearer, Alan Hansen and Gary Lineker during Hansen's final broadcast
Sport
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Eminem's daughter Hailie has graduated from high school
music
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Arts and Entertainment
'Deep Breath' is Peter Capaldi's first full-length adventure as the twelfth Doctor
TVFirst episode of new series has ended up on the internet
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Caption competition
Caption competition
Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?