Lions 2013 | By Andy McGeady
The Paddy Power Blog ponders the lack of competition so far for the Lions and how big an impact Quade Cooper might have.
Mercurial. Enigmatic. Pain in the Arse. All terms applied to Queensland Reds fly-half Quade Cooper who captains his side against the Lions on Saturday.
Even shorn of their current Wallaby contingent it’s undoubtedly a strong selection and a far cry from the sweaty disinterest of the BaaBaas (Joe Rokococo honourably excepted) or the callowness of the Western Force.
That weakened Force selection contained seven players in their match day squad who had never played a single minute of Super Rugby while another four starters (Dane Haylett-Petty, Ed Stubbs, James Hilterbrand and Sam Christie) had just 20 Super Rugby caps between them. The Lions duly started that game as 1/500 favourites, virtually unbackable.
The final score might as well have read Christians 17-69 Lions with Warren Gatland as Caesar, fuming that the condemned hadn’t provided more of a test.
On Saturday The Reds are 9/1 (10.00) to beat the Lions with the Lions themselves sitting at a minuscule 1/20 (1.05).
Still, 9/1 in a two-horse race – worth a punt?
Well, the history of the last few Lions tours says that might not be such a good bet. The only non-test matches the Lions have failed to win on the last three tours are these:
- 2001 – Australia ‘A’ – Lost 25-28
- 2005 – NZ Maori – Lost 13-19
- 2009 – Emerging Springboks – Drew 13-13
Notice something about all three? All representative teams, with the Maori always able to give any touring international team a good run for their money.
To give some pricing perspective the Lions had been at 1.53 against the NZ Maori and 1.44 against the Emerging Springboks. In the world of Lions tour matches that’s long odds indeed, and puts Saturday’s 1.05 against the Reds in a fairly cold light.
Give me some Maori
Going back to the Western Force game, the Lions handicap had been as low as -27 points on the Monday but moved out to -39 by Wednesday morning and -44 by kickoff. The Lions current handicap for the Reds is at -18.
But I said this was a strong Reds team, right?
And it is. Reds coach Ewen McKenzie has rolled out all the ammunition he still has in the locker with 12 Wallabies in the match squad, nine of whom will start. And at fly-half one of those Wallabies will be the mercurial, enigmatic pain in the arse that is Quade Cooper.
The 25-year-old Cooper is an attacking genius, a player of which there are few parallels in rugby and there are certainly none like him in the Lions squad. He takes on a huge amount of ball, an average of 12 carries per 80 minutes. The highest figures for any backs in the Lions squad?
- 9.4 – Stuart Hogg
- 8.7 – Leigh Halfpenny
- 8.6 – Alex Cuthbert
BOD not so mighty
Consider the great Brian O’Driscoll; it’s fair to say O’Driscoll is viewed as one of the best offloaders around. In the 2012-13 season his average number of offloads per 80 minutes was 1.4. That’s the highest figure in the Lions squad, whether forward or back.
Quade Cooper’s average offloads per 80: 3.4.
Even bearing in mind that Super Rugby is a more offloading game than that typically played in the Northern Hemisphere, that difference is vast and illustrative of an attacking ability that can prise open almost any defence.
Then consider Gatland’s choice of a midfield containing both Manu Tuilagi and Jonathan Davies. While both are superb at racking up metres with ball in hand the flip side is that they are the weakest defensive combination that the Lions could roll out, making 3.5 fewer tackle attempts per game in domestic, ERC and Six Nations play than Roberts/O’Driscoll with Tuilagi in particular having a very pedestrian 80% tackle rate, just a tick behind Owen Farrell’s 81% at fly-half.
The inclusion of Quade Cooper in this contest has been taken by some to mean he won’t be considered for the Australian test side to play the Lions. And there’s probably something in that.
Cooper has some massive flaws in both his game and character; it would be kind to say he’s defensively average and there’s no doubt that he’s a confidence player. But when he’s firing he can win games almost single-handedly.
But this is not a defensively magnificent Lions midfield and if you believe in Quade forget about the Reds winning and concentrate on that 18 points handicap – if that line starts to move out that fired-up pain in the arse could make it look very inviting.
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Credit: all player data is courtesy of Opta