Hungry Lions on the main course

The British and Irish Lions have been left under no illusions that Australia could well get one over them in their first Test

Brian O'Driscoll, the Lions match captain talks to his team during the British and Irish Lions captain's run
Brian O'Driscoll, the Lions match captain talks to his team during the British and Irish Lions captain's run

After a disappointing but not unexpected defeat to the Brumbies in midweek (and I still view aspects of that in a positive light), the British and Irish Lions have been left under no illusions that Australia are quite capable of getting one over on them in today’s first Test if they don’t get their own game right.

The way Warren Gatland has selected his team looks good on paper. It is a good team in my opinion and it is now up to the players to step up to the mark.

The Lions have had the advantage of playing six warm-up games, whereas Australia haven’t had a competitive fixture since last November.

There is no room now for any excuses!

Going through the team, I’m very happy with the front row.

A fairytale selection for Alex Corbisiero, he wasn’t even in the original touring party. His selection is a tremendous credit to him. He was badly missed by England in the domestic season and I believe he will make a difference.

It is also great to see Tom Youngs, a former three-quarters, playing at hooker. That’s a fantastic achievement, he brings a lot of dynamism to the team and, fingers crossed, his throwing in will be accurate.

Adam Jones provides much valued experience and expertise.

In the second row, Paul O’Connell and Alun Wyn Jones are tried and tested at Test level.

They’ve got a lot of experience, and that’s going to be vital.

These five players need to provide the foundation for victory. If they can get the team on the front foot then that will allow the other units of the team to function properly.

Behind that front five, the back row, and the captain Sam Warburton in particular, have to play their part. Warburton has to take every opportunity to lead from the front and, as any good No 7, needs to dominate the breakdown area.

At No 8 I’m pleased to see Jamie Heaslip’s selection.

He’s very experienced and, having been a little out of form domestically, on tour he has come back rejuvenated to show great form.

I’ve always liked him, he’s very athletic, has good pace to get into the spaces and makes good decisions.

It’s also great to see Tom Croft back in contention after serious injury. He is an impressive athlete and great rugby player. Those three players should make a great combination.

So if the forwards look good so do the backs. There’s a lot of power, pace, experience and skill here as well.

With Mike Phillips and Jonathan Sexton, the Lions have an excellent half-back pairing. Brian O’Driscoll, even at his age and with his experience, just doesn’t seem to lose any appetite for the game, and Jonathan Davies showed what a class footballer he is against the Waratahs last Saturday.

He was simply outstanding, and O’Driscoll will be relishing playing alongside him.

Then there are the two big Welsh units on the wings.

If they can continue to repeat their Six Nations form they will present plenty of problems for the Wallabies’ defence to contend with.

Finally, at full-back, Leigh Halfpenny is not only a very good all-round rugby player, but he’s a fantastic goal-kicker too, and between him and Sexton, they Lions should have all bases covered.

So the Lions look all set... on paper.

What makes the difference on the day is the level of intensity individuals within, and the team collectively, bring to the game.

It’s a very marginal thing, so if you’re only slightly off the pace as you meet the opposition coming to the gain-line, it can be the crucial difference between success and failure. Get beyond the gain-line consistently and you should do very well. Stay behind it and you’ve got problems.

The Lions have to make sure Australia are kept on the back foot, and cause them all the problems and pose all the questions.

Although defeat in midweek was somewhat inevitable given jet-lag to certain players, a scratch side and untried combinations, their level of collective intensity was not sufficient to overcome a well-organised and motivated Brumbies XV.

This result simply served to illustrate how dangerous Australia will be if their intensity cannot be matched and surpassed on the field.

That is the challenge for the Lions, who in my opinion look strong, well-prepared and hungry. I’m looking forward to a competitive Test match and a positive result for the British & Irish Lions.

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer