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The Lions have yet to be tested: here’s the case for the defence

by Sean Goff | June 17, 2013

By Andy McGeady | Lions Tour

Tuesday’s match against the Brumbies is the first appearance of the true Lions dirt-trackers, the midweek team keeping the tour ticking over while everyone else concentrates on the tests.

The latest back call-ups all play; an England centre combination of Billy Twelvetrees and Brad Barritt along with the recently-capped Christian Wade on one flank and Welsh legend Shane WIlliams on the other. Williams – fresh from Division 2 Japanese rugby with the semi-professional Mitsubishi Dynaboars – appears to be playing because he’s a Welshman, in the same time zone, who happens to have his rugby boots.

A joke call-up? Well if there’s even 50 per cent of the Williams’ magic in those boots then there’s potential for liveliness and to balance this Brad Barritt will probably do his usual impression of an open-side flanker who somehow found himself in a centre’s jersey.

HEAD OVER HEELS:

HEAD OVER HEELS: Shane Williams gets a surprise call up (pic: Inpho)

However, with Ben Youngs and Stuart Hogg providing serious pace in the halfbacks, Christian Wade eager to show off his electric running and Rob Kearney desperate to mount a challenge to get onto the test bench – it has the potential to be an exciting contest. And that’s not even counting an angry and barnstorming back row of Sean O’Brien, Justin Tipuric and Toby Faletau.

Much fuss has been made of the weak opposition faced by the Lions so far on tour, with media types bloviating about the disrespect shown to the tourists and whether it brings future Lions’ tours into doubt.

Previous Tours

But with five tour matches played thus far, has the opposition been that much worse than previous tours?

In South Africa 1997, the:

  • Maximum winning margin was 50 points against Mpumalanga (64-14)
  • The highest score came in their final mid-week game against Northern Free State a (67-39)

Fast forward to South Africa in 2009 when the Lions increased these margins slightly to:

  • a maximum margin of 64 points and a high score of 74 points, both coming in the same 74-10 victory over the Golden Lions.

On the tours in between, Australia in 2001 and New Zealand in 2005, 

  • the tourists hit the 100-point mark in a game with wins against Western Australia (116-10) and Manawatu (109-6) respectively.
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HA’PENNY PLACE: Leigh Halfpenny goes over in the game against Combined Country

The 2013 tour?

Thus far their highest winning margin and points scored have come in the 64-0 victory over Combined Country, the first shutout by a Lions team since a 44-0 match against Western Australia in 1989.

Gutsy display

This year’s crop of Lions probably should have put 100 points on Combined Country and in the first half it looked as if they were gearing up to do so. The second half, however, was a different story as the cobbled-together outfit minus their concussed star Beau Robinson put on a gutsy display with only some good last-ditch defending keeping them from crossing the Lions try line.

It’s that defence that has been the big difference on this tour, with the Lions conceding an average of just 11 points per game, far below the 17 points per game from the 1997-2009 tours.

There’s one other big difference on this year’s itinerary; on the last three tours the only non-test matches the Lions failed to win were:

  • 2001 – Australia ‘A’ – Lost 25-28
  • 2005 – NZ Maori – Lost 13-19
  • 2009 – Emerging Springboks – Drew 13-13

All representative teams, of which there are none on this tour.

The Lions remain heavy favourites for the test series but with just two mid-week games left to play there is no doubt that in terms of the lack of serious non-test opposition the complaints have some truth to them.

BrumbiesVLions

Pictures: Inpho.ie

Follow me on Twitter @andymcgeady

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