Andy McGeady | British & Irish Lions
Luck is usually a lady of whimsy but judging by the run of luck Australia went through in the first test it seems quite possible that no mirror in the fine city of Brisbane had gone unsmashed on Saturday morning.
- Three backs were lost to head injuries inside the first 46 minutes
- Adam Ashley-Cooper paid tribute to Mel Gibson by reportedly popping his shoulder out and back in again
- And finally a rogue piece of turf sent both Kurtley Beale onto his backside and the potential match-winning kick harmlessly wide
The Lions conceded just three turnovers against Australia. That’s good. And they nailed every one of their 12 lineouts. Excellent. That sort of execution was marred somewhat by the concession of 12 penalties (as opposed to seven by Australia) and losing three of the eight scrums on their own feed.
Warren Gatland’s faith in the scrummaging of Alex Corbisiero over the youthful barnstormery of Mako Vunipola paid off for the first 52 minutes. The Lions’ scrum was solid, giving up a single free kick in five feeds while winning three penalties and winning one outright.
When the new front row came on, things changed.
Scrum and have a go
After props Corbisiero and Adam Jones were withdrawn with almost 30 minutes still to play and Tom Youngs following on the 65 minute mark, the platform that the Lions had to that point enjoyed disappeared. The last three scrums of the match with the all-new Lions front row saw Australia take a Lions’ scrum against the head, win a scrum of their own and finally, and almost famously, force two resets followed by that penalty which gave Kurtley Beale a chance to win the match.
Arse, however, met turf and the grandest of returns was not to be.
That’s where the Lions’ run of luck ended as injuries to both Paul O’Connell and Corbisiero rule them out of the second test and, in O’Connell’s case, the remainder of the series. With those injuries to two crucial Lions forwards and the clearing of James Horwill’s alleged stamp, Robbie Deans should think that perhaps Lady Luck is watching things carefully and enjoy the thought of his front rows scrummaging against Vunipola from the off in Saturday’s second test.
The spread for the the Lions’ final midweek game is at 20 points and, neatly, it’s 20 years since a Lions squad lost more than a single non-tour match. That came on the 1993 tour, the last of rugby’s amateur era, but unfortunately for the romantics it’s improbable that Tuesday will see an additional tick in the loss column of the professional tourists.
Tuilagi’s bid to prove fitness
The Rebels haven’t been a defensively strong team in 2013, conceding most tries per game (4.1), clean breaks and offloads of all Super Rugby teams. With Jonathan Davies not proving the perfect partner for Brian O’Driscoll in the first test, Manu Tuilagi, named at 13, will be desperate to prove his fitness in Melbourne and will perhaps look to come into the twelve channel often to prove his worth in the inside slot.
Sean O’Brien has been named at open side and will surely feel that he has every chance of breaking into the test squad for Saturday, given the quiet game had by Tom Croft. Dan Lydiate’s being named as captain is yet another demonstration of his senior role in Gatland’s officer corps but a couple of trademark O’Brien runs could yet see him force his way into the coach’s thinking.
Jerseys up for grabs
Oddly, if a couple of back rows had picked up knocks on Saturday the Rebels’ captain for Tuesday’s game, Welshman Gareth Delve, could have well found himself in a similar have-boots-and-in-correct-hemisphere position that which both Shane Williams and now Tom Court have enjoyed.
Saturday might have been a perfect start in terms of the result but between injuries and deficiencies in the performance there might be jerseys up for grabs on Tuesday. That alone, plus the Rebels’ defensive frailties, should make it worth a watch.
Credit: all match stats courtesy of Opta.