Moody Views: Who fills huge gap left by Sam Warburton injury can decide Sydney showdown
With O’Connell out, it leaves O’Driscoll as the obvious candidate
Sunday 30 June 2013
If there was one moment that summed up Sam Warburton and everything he brings to a rugby field, let alone the British and Irish Lions, it came in the moments immediately after he suffered the injury that is likely to end his series. A hamstring tear of the severity he clearly suffered is both painful and restrictive, but it did not stop him scrambling to his feet, taking his place in the defensive line and barking out orders to his men, marshalling that red line.
He will be a massive loss if he does not make the field in Sydney for the decisive Test. There are those who have questioned his appointment as captain and his place in the side, but he showed on Saturday why Warren Gatland made him his man. He was the stand-out performer on the pitch, putting in tackle after tackle, ball carrying, grasping turnovers – quite simply outstanding.
Gatland now has a number of difficult selection issues to mull over up in Noosa in Queensland where the Lions have gone for a couple of days of much-needed R&R. Who stands in for the captain – if Warburton doesn't make it – will be one of the trickiest.
With Paul O'Connell already out, it leaves Brian O'Driscoll as the obvious candidate but if, as expected, Jamie Roberts has recovered from a hamstring problem of his own, will O'Driscoll even be in the starting XV?
Roberts is likely to come into the side if fit, and I would also like to see Manu Tuilagi on the bench for the aggressive ball carrying he can bring in the final 20 minutes or so. That will leave O'Driscoll and Jonathan Davies contesting the No 13 shirt.
If there is no O'Driscoll in the side, then you are looking towards Alun Wyn Jones or Jamie Heaslip as alternative leaders.
As for who would step into Warburton's No 7 shirt, I would take Justin Tipuric as the best like-for-like replacement. Tipuric has pushed Warburton hard for his place with both Wales and the Lions. He is a born No 7, a better fit to the shirt and role than Sean O'Brien, who offers all-round back row cover on the bench.
Tipuric is strong over the ball; you saw the turnovers Warburton made on Saturday by being strong over the ball and Tipuric is cut from the same cloth. Overall, the make-up of the back row will be interesting. I'm still out on the No 6 shirt, Dan Lydiate v Tom Croft. I appreciate why Lydiate was there but I still think Croft offers more around the park. Lydiate's work rate is huge and the hits he puts in are big – he even put himself down with one. He is a quality player.
Croft has more to his all-round game for me, although I can't see Gatland changing his mind for Sydney. I expect they will probably stick with Lydiate and have Tipuric at No 7.
There will be other changes in the pack – again fitness allowing. If Alex Corbisiero is fit, he will have to come in. The scrum was a mixed bag and Graham Rowntree will be scratching his head a bit. At the start of the game they were undoubtedly losing it, then got on top, then slipped back again. Technically in the scrum Corbisiero is superior to Maku Vunipola, who is still learning his trade. Around the park Vunipola offers more, but for a huge game like the one looming on Saturday you need solidity in the scrum and Corbisiero offers that.
I hope Gatland sticks with Ben Youngs at scrum-half. There will be a temptation for the coach to go back to what he knows best, the players he has relied on in the past and bring back Mike Phillips.
Youngs had a solid performance on Saturday. There weren't opportunities for any breaks, his distribution was good and he was energetic. I thought it was a strange choice to bring him off at 53 minutes. I could see Gatland bringing Phillips back, but Youngs deserves another start.
Australia deserved the victory on the night in Melbourne. They played marginally the better rugby and were a little more consistent when they had the ball in hand. But the main difference was simply having a frontline goalkicker on the pitch. It could have made a difference a week ago and it did here.
Christian Leali'ifano coped with the pressure and that made a difference to his team, let alone their opponents. Australia were by no means brilliant on the day, far from it, and neither were the Lions. There were a lot of errors in the game by both sides, especially in the first half; dropped balls, penalties.
There were, though, enough good individual performances – Wyn Jones was another who had a fine game – to encourage the Lions as they lick their wounds in Queensland.
I expect they will have a couple of light days before heading down to Sydney for what is going to be a thunderous climax to the tour. It is going to be some decider and I cannot wait for it.
ESPN Classic continues its Lions coverage every weeknight from 7pm. Tomorrow night it's Being a Lion, featuring interviews with legends like Martin Johnson. Visit espnclassic.com for details.
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