Lewis Moody column for the British and Irish Lions: Making Alun Wyn Jones captain is genius. I can't wait for the coin toss with James Horwill
Friday 05 July 2013
As a Lions fan it would have been much better on the nerves if that last Leigh Halfpenny kick had crept over a week ago, but as a neutral you would not have wanted any other finale to this nail-biting series than the one that awaits on Saturday. All the excitement, the pressure, the hubbub, the chat around the squad and the selection made by Warren Gatland, all building to the biggest game of the last decade, probably since England won the World Cup here, certainly since the last Lions tour. It just makes for a great spectacle.
Being here in Sydney you can feel it. The place is teeming with Lions fans; red jerseys, green jerseys, blue jerseys, white jerseys, everybody is waiting for the game and all of them are talking about the choices Gatland made, the 15 men who will start and the eight waiting to come off the bench. Among the decisions is one stroke of genius – making Alun Wyn Jones captain. He is exactly the sort of person to lead in a game of this magnitude and pressure.
Jones is a great choice. He has had an outstanding tour and having him as captain – especially after the incident with James Horwill – is just genius. I would love to be there at that coin toss and hear what is said! There will be tension there, but there will be huge tension around the whole occasion. There is no question he deserves his place in the side and he is an utterly level-headed guy, just the sort of leader you need for a contest like this.
BOD's dimmed light no match for reliable Roberts
I was not expecting seven changes. That did come as a surprise, in particular leaving out Tom Youngs, who has had an outstanding season and has been one of the most consistent players on the tour. I would have had Justin Tipuric at seven rather than Sean O'Brien, and it also strikes me as odd that Ben Youngs is not even given a place on the bench. He came in from the cold for Melbourne and has now been sent back into it.
Out here you have 100 different discussions with 100 different people who come up with 100 different team selections. That's the fun of it all, but ultimately it is down to Gatland alone. You can see why he has made the choices he has, even if you may not agree with all of them. Richard Hibbard brings extra bulk to the scrum, as does O'Brien, and in Mike Phillips the coach is going back to a player he has depended on during his time with Wales. Gatland is going back to what he knows best, which brings me to Brian O'Driscoll.
For players of this and my generation he is one of the most talented players we will ever see. But Gatland is thinking only of winning the game in front of him.
He is not thinking about Wales, he is thinking about the Lions. Brian has not done anything massively wrong but he has not been the sparkling, shining light that we have seen for so long. Gatland has gone with Jamie Roberts, one of those players he has always relied upon. He has picked Roberts for every game for which he has been available since he first capped him back in 2008.
Much as we would all love O'Driscoll to be out there and come away with a series win, there is no place for sentiment. Gatland has been brave and made big and very tough decisions. This was without doubt one of his toughest. Gatland has gone back to what he knows and what he trusts and that is what any coach would do. You cannot hang his reputation on this. His record with Wales speaks for itself.
The simple fact is that his choice didn't work last week and we lost the Test, so he is responding to that with a side he believes can get it right this time. His response has been to throw all his eggs into one basket for the decider. Anyhow, now the choices have been made, everyone connected with the Lions must come together. It is about being positive, the whole squad backing each other and focusing on winning on Saturday.
Pack must lay down the law straight from kick-off
The last 20 minutes of each game have been the worst parts of the match for the Lions. Australia came out on top in Melbourne and Brisbane over the closing quarter. The Lions need more off the bench, and to that end Tom Youngs, Manu Tuilagi and Tipuric will bring energy, enthusiasm and impact, tearing pieces out of the opposition over the last 20 minutes. There has been a big emphasis on making the bench stronger, but then of course you have to make sure you are in a position to win the game in the last 20 – which takes us to the first 10!
I see this as a potentially pivotal period. It certainly could have been in Melbourne when the Lions started so positively and drove at the Australians – a kick for the corner, a couple of drives and the referee told the Aussies that if it came down one more time a yellow card would follow. Another kick for the corner and another drive could have seen a massive advantage to the Lions. But in Test match rugby turning down three points is not an easy choice to make. The Lions must start well – with Alun Wyn Jones marshalling the pack and going at the Aussies – look for the corners and then drive. Take it to them.
I was chatting about it with Steve Thompson. Those first 10 minutes are going to be so important. It is a chance for the captain to impress on the opposition, "this is what we are going to do to you". What the Lions have to do throughout is retain the ball better – it was poor on both sides last week. The backs had very little ball in Melbourne and they have to get some good possession to hurt Australia.
Roberts is a big-game player, a big enthusiastic ball carrier who is expert in giving little off-loads that create openings. You have seen how good George North is – it is imperative we get these guys into the game.
George Smith's return for Australia is fantastic. Michael Hooper has been quiet – he has been easy to knock off the ball, which is unlike an Australian No 7 – and I am not surprised coach Robbie Deans has made a change. The breakdown has been a chaotic area and Smith's experience and tenacity will count for plenty in there. I played against him a number of times and he is a wonderful player. Is he slightly past it? We will find out, but on his domestic form he deserves his opportunity.
Expect nothing else than another nail-biting finish
So who is going to win? It is just about impossible to call. If Alex Corbisiero comes in and dominates that scrum with Adam Jones and Hibbard, if Geoff Parling gets it right in the line-out with Hibbard and his jumpers, if they can get enough ball to launch Roberts and North in the backs, bring Tommy Bowe into the game, if O'Brien can keep that wily old dog Smith out of the breakdown and off our ball…
There are plenty of ifs, and one moment of brilliance, one mistake, one kick could settle it. But I still have the Lions to win – by the narrowest of margins. It is going to be a nerve-racking game. Enjoy it!
ESPN Classic continues its Lions and international Rugby Union coverage every weeknight from 7pm. Airing tonight is the Rugby World Cup final from 2003. Visit: espnclassic.com for details
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