Three positives ahead of Saturday’s game, and three not-so-positives.
Stronger scrum with Corbisiero: Probably the right call from Warren Gatland at loosehead. There was a danger the visitors would sacrifice potential scrum dominance for added destruction in the loose, but why weaken an area of perceived strength? Alex Corbisiero is a better scrummager than Mako Vunipola, and seeing the latter lumber on with 20 minutes to play would be a leg-sapping sight for tiring Aussies.
Gorgeous George is fit: In the land of overwrought machismo, praise is not given up easily to opposing alpha male characters, but the Aussies have been terrible worried about Georgie North. The manchild has been outstanding so far, defences parting whenever he has had the egg in hand. Even if he is not 100% fit, he could be the gamechanger.
The bigger picture: While the Welsh players have poor records against the Aussies, they have made a habit of winning big games. When you add Messrs O’Driscoll and O’Connell (and Heaslip, to a lesser extent) to the side, then you have a team clogged with experienced big-game players, who are used to prevailing against the current. The Australian side is callow by contrast.
Down under and out
Injuries: I agree with Gatland’s first XV selection, all in all. I would have had a different balance in the back-row, but who wouldn’t? However, that queasy stomachy feeling persists when I think of the bench. What happens if Warburton or Halfpenny gets injured? Where is the cover at centre? Where are the players that will provide the spark if the game is tight, or needs to be chased? Surely Seán O’Brien, who provides cover at 6, 7 and 8, merited a place on the bench? Similarly, how can a player of Justin Tipuric’s quality (who should have started) be left out of the 23? And, can you really trust Sean Maitland if Leigh Ha’penny gets injured? Injuries have undermined Gatland’s options, but he hasn’t helped himself with his choice of replacements.
Lineout: A lot rests on one arm. If Tom Youngs gets his darts right, then it could go some way towards shoring up the set piece for the Lions. However, if the yips visit his fingers, the consistent loss of possession and resultant loss of confidence could be devastating. Personally, I think too much has been made of Tom Croft’s ability at the back of the lineout. If the lineout is shaky, you could have Devon Toner on stilts and it wouldn’t matter.
Partners in crimeland: Jonathan Davies has been excellent so far and deserved selection. That said, the starting centres have barely played together. The same goes for Jonny Sexton and Mike Phillips and the starting front row. Obviously, this has been injury-enforced, so Gatland is blame-free in this respect. I guess that is the way of touring sides. Let us hope they don’t act like strangers as we drink our first cups of tea.
Il verdict: Lions by 5.
Notice: How amazing is that Jordan Williams lad?
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