Ruck and Maul: Elsom rates France as biggest obstacle when Wallabies hit the road

Click to follow

There was nothing lost in translation down the video conference line from Sydney during Monday's British & Irish Lions media briefing as Wallaby captain Rocky Elsom rated the top challengers on his side's forthcoming tour as New Zealand, followed by France. In a (tenuous?) link set up by Lions sponsors HSBC a mere 32 months out from the 2013 tour of Australia, Elsom said: "I think New Zealand will be the ultimate test for us in Hong Kong [next Saturday]. I would say France are the form team in Europe, I don't think many people would argue with that, with Toulouse winning the Heineken Cup last season and France winning the Six Nations. It'll be tough and we're a long way from that match at the end of the tour but I don't think they'll get any weaker between now and then." They will face Wales, England and Italy in the meantime. Elsom cut a miserable figure at the end of his last set-to with the Poms – the loss to England in Sydney in June – after which Australia had a mixed Tri-Nations of three defeats by the All Blacks and a high-scoring 2-1 verdict over South Africa. "We didn't play well that night in Sydney," said Elsom. "From Perth [the previous week when Australia won 27-17] you wouldn't believe it was the same team. It showed us what we needed to sharpen up on, and as unhappy as I was to lose the match, maybe it served a kind of purpose." England's first autumn opponents are New Zealand on 6 November, a week before the Aussies arrive. "England will most probably be looking to target our scrum again like they did in Perth and, to a lesser extent, in Sydney," said Elsom. "I would say our front row could handle it [but] the proof will be out there. There won't be too many places to hide in that front row. Over the years we've had some really tight battles, particularly at Twickenham. England have got as good a chance as we have." And New Zealand? "The thing that will really hurt England would be if New Zealand can defensively slow their ball down. That would make it a very tough day at the office for England. With the players they've got they really don't need to be slow at the breakdown. I see that as a big issue for them. There's a lot of teams who have suffered against the All Blacks at the breakdown."

Baa-baas with Asian flavour

So the Lions tour is a long way off but some people like to plan these things. The word is that the Tests will be staged in Sydney, Brisbane and either Adelaide or Melbourne. The ex-pats in Perth will have to settle for a support match, but unlike in 2009 in South Africa the six non-Tests will feature Super 15 players, with the host union worried that weak sides would ruin ticket sales. As to the Lions' warm-up in Hong Kong in front of 40,000 ex-pats, their opponents the Barbarians will, said the tour manager Andy Irvine, have "players from that region involved, from Hong Kong and other parts of Asia". A Baa-baas insider said it was more likely to be limited to a couple of Japanese. Even in a money-making, ground-breaking venture, no one wants to get hammered.

Moorwood's centre of attention

Mega-rich Chelsea FC wrote proudly in a recent programme of "bringing over" New Zealand women's football captain Hayley Moorwood, an Aucklander with 58 caps now on a year's contract with Chelsea Ladies. This was news to the conspicuously less wealthy London Irish, who were pretty sure they had paid Ms Moorwood's passage over last summer with her boyfriend, the Exiles' centre Daniel Bowden.

Competition winners

Congratulations to last week's competition winners, who each received a pair of match tickets courtesy of QBE: Mark Hopkins of Pudsey; Jane Sanderson of Otley; Colin Rogers of Reading; Ian Ellis of Gloucester; Michael Wheeler of New Malden and Mrs M Western of Harrow.