The Folau Factor
One man has lit up the domestic rugby world in Australia this year more than any other – Israel Folau. Throughout the season he has been winning games for the Waratahs almost single-handedly, with his combination of power and speed creating the perfect nightmare for the opposition. Even the Lions squad have admitted that they fear him – Adam Jones recently said during an interview on the BBC website that Folau presents the biggest threat to them, saying he could be “pretty dangerous” and that they’ll “have to watch out for him”. There’s no doubting that if Folau fires, the rest of the team will respond and raise their game. One moment of brilliance can change a game, and he could well be the man to provide this moment.
Are the Welsh too weak?
Saying that the Welsh could be the weak link might be an odd thing to say, especially when they have been dominant in the last two Six Nations and boast some excellent players in their ranks. The fact is though that nearly half the Lions squad is made up of Welshmen, and the Welsh haven’t had a good time against Australia in recent years with the Aussies coming on top in their last nine encounters. That also means that Lions leader Sam Warburton has never tasted success against the Wallabies.
This recent history of failure could be the difference between the teams, as the Welsh contingent step onto the field with doubts in their minds and memories of the painful defeats they’ve suffered – including a heart-wrenching 14-12 last minute defeat last year in Cardiff.
The question is, what could the Lions have done differently? The Welsh deserve their places in the team and to have dropped them for lesser Irish, English or Scottish players would have been dangerous. So, the strongest team the Lions have is the one they must go with, and only time will tell if the Welsh contingent are able to psychologically overcome so many previous losses.
Australia have the mental edge
When playing the constituent Lions nations during 2012, Australia undoubtedly had the upper hand. Throughout the year, they played 6 matches, winning 5 of them and only losing once, in a shock defeat to a poor Scottish team – a result that was a freak, not the norm. Therefore, Australia have already proved themselves perfectly able to handle almost any combination of Lions players thrown at them. Of course, when the best of these four teams are combined they create a much more potent force, but 2012 results show that the Aussies shouldn’t need to be concerned about individual players within the mix. The question is – will the Lions have enough time to gel and show that the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts?
Home ground advantage
It doesn’t matter what sport you look at: playing at home always gives a team a massive advantage. They know the pitch, are used to the conditions and, perhaps most importantly, have a huge throng of cheering fans all around them, playing the part of an extra player. All of the stadiums are large – especially Stadium Australia – therefore the Lions will feel the full force of a hostile Aussie crowd. Subconsciously, this will intimidate and force mistakes at some pivotal points. True, the Lions will bring their own army, buoyed by the tag of favourites, but their voices will fade into the background once the Aussie faithful get their vocal chords warmed up.
Aussie Teams Dominate the Super 15
The Super 15 is currently being dominated by Aussie teams, proving the strength of the players from this proud rugby nation. The Brumbies currently rank atop the standings, while the Reds are in 4th place. While domestic performances don’t always translate into international success – just ask the French rugby team – it is certainly a good sign. What’s more, some of the key players for the Wallabies are having storming seasons, and if just a couple of them bring their form forward to the international games, the Lions will have a massive task on their hands. In contrast, teams from Ireland and the UK didn’t fare so well domestically this year, with an all-French Heineken Cup Final pointing to Gallic dominance.
Disagree? Check out our five reasons why the Lions will win the series
By Ilan Hurwitz
Ilan runs the Australian web site Football Jerseys Online where you can purchase Jerseys from the most popular teams including the British & Irish Lions and the Wallabies.
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images