The British and Irish Lions believe two of their injured “Panzer” backs, the Ireland wing Tommy Bowe and the England centre Manu Tuilagi, will be passed fit for next weekend’s meeting with the Wallabies in Melbourne, where victory would give them a first series victory in 16 years. But Warren Gatland, the tourists’ head coach, fears the refereeing of the tackle area could yet deny his squad the glory they crave.
Gatland was a long way short of happy with the performance of the New Zealand official Chris Pollock during yesterday’s opening Test in Queensland. Asked whether he thought his players had been “crucified” at the breakdown, he responded with a decisive “yes”, adding that Brian O’Driscoll, the great Irish centre playing in his fourth and last Lions series, had been “afraid” to compete at the rucks for fear of being sent to the sin bin following two early penalty calls against him.
“And then we saw the Wallabies infringe at a ruck when we were on their line,” the coach continued. “Was that not a yellow card situation? There were a few decisions that didn’t go our way. When referees come into Test matches from provincial rugby or Super rugby, it’s a huge step up in intensity. We need to look at things over the next few days.”
Returns for Bowe, now fully recovered from a broken hand, and Tuilagi, incapacitated with a shoulder injury, would be of deep concern to the Wallabies, who find themselves fire-fighting on the fitness front after taking a physical battering from their opponents. Two centres, Pat McCabe and Adam Ashley-Cooper, are at significant risk of missing the Melbourne date, and while the full-back Berrick Barnes may recover from jaw damage, Christian Leali’ifano, the team’s principal goalkicker who was concussed 52 seconds into his debut, is rated no better than touch-and-go.Reuse content