Australia v Lions Final Test: 5 key battles

Stephen Moore v Richard Hibbard

The battle at hooker is fascinating on a couple of levels. Firstly, and most crucially, the line-out has a huge role to play. Moore’s throwing has been good but not excellent so far in the test series, while Hibbard’s has been poor this tour – although over the course of the season he has been excellent. As such an important platform for attacking ball, both men will have to ignore nerves and pressure to hit their jumpers. Secondly, Moore is a real asset to Australia around the park. So far in two tests he has made 20 tackles and 21 carries – seriously impressive numbers for a hooker. Tom Youngs has also been busy in the loose for the Lions, so Hibbard will have to pick up that slack and put himself about. He must not be afraid to get his hands on the ball.

George Smith v Sean O’Brien

The fairytale comeback? Saturday will decide that, but either way the Wallabies have a player of immense quality and experience in George Smith. Up against him is the Tullow Tank, an openside far from the traditional mould that Smith fits – as such the breakdown battle is going to be very interesting. O’Brien will be able to call on the likes of Dan Lydiate, Alun-Wyn Jones and Toby Faletau to give him a helping hand here, but ultimately if Smith is able to dominate such a crucial area like we all know he can, O’Brien, as his opposite man, will be held responsible. In the ball-carrying stakes O’Brien offers significantly more, and Lions fans will be hoping he can give them the kind of go-forward ball that was lacking somewhat last week.

Will Genia v Mike Phillips

This was a huge call from Gatland. Genia ran rings (literally, in the case of the first Folau try) around Phillips in the first test, who was subsequently dropped/rested depending on who you believe. Is that the kick up the backside the big Welshman needed? Perhaps. The Wallabies will target him, however, knowing how he likes to back himself and have a go – Ben Mowen in particular was excellent at allowing him half a chance, before swiftly shutting the door and chopping him down. Johnny Sexton has not looked great in the test series, but that has partly been because of the lack of quality service he has been receiving (Ben Youngs is not exempt from blame here, either). Phillips needs to make sure he gives his fly-half a better platform to play from this week.

Johnny Sexton v James O’Connor

Sexton’s performances in the first two tests have been frustrating. He is comfortably the most dangerous running fly-half the British Isles and Ireland have, and yet we have seen very little of it thus far. We are all hoping that he will be allowed a little more freedom to play, because as good as his tactical kicking is it was not enough to win last week. As for James O’Connor – he can count himself a lucky man. He is a tremendously talented player, but he has looked out of his depth at fly-half at test level, which is ironic as depth is exactly what he has been playing with a lot of. He looks more comfortable with the greater space and time allowed him at fullback, and Australia have been at their most potent in attack when he and Beale have swapped places. Expect them to do a lot of that this week.

Christian Leali’ifano v Jamie Roberts

Leali’ifano was cool as a cucumber on what was effectively his debut last weekend, combining some good attacking play with nerveless goal-kicking. Oh how the Australians must wish he had stayed on the pitch in the first test, where they left so many points. Another display in front of the posts like last week and the Lions will have to come up with another dimension to their play. Jamie Roberts has overcome his hamstring issues to take his spot opposite, and not a moment too soon. You can bet your house that within the first ten minutes he will have battered his way into, and quite probably over, Leali’ifano at least a couple of times. He is a no nonsense player, but when he and Davies get it right they can be quite a handful. With Davies back in his preferred 13 role, the Welsh duo will hope to combine with significantly more fluidity than Davies and O’Driscoll have thus far.

By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43

21 thoughts on “Australia v Lions Final Test: 5 key battles

  1. I think the key one missed here is actually AAC vs Davies. Ashley-Cooper shouldn’t be underestimated and after Davies defense last week; I am sure he will be targeted.

    I really hope Phillips turns up or poor Sexton will have no chance. If our pack can get on the front foot then yes Phillips is devastating, but if not, he tends to get frustrated and tries to force things. Problem is, if that continues we don’t have plan B, just a worse version on Phillips in Murray.

    1. In fairness to Davies his defensive problems were more a case of a lack of understanding with BOD than anything else.

      I suspect that this, more than any attacking understanding is the reason that he partners Roberts this week.

    2. I actually think that’s a little unfair on Murray. He looked excellent when he came off the bench last week, and – Hong Kong aside – has had a better tour than Phillips. If the Welshman’s having a poor game I’d be happy with Murray coming off the bench, but I agree that I would still rather have Youngs there as he is a completely different type of player.

      1. I actually think other than his cameo off the bench last week – Murray has looked slow and ponderous. Even the Rebels game where everyone looked great, his try aside, he looked slow. Youngs was far better off the bench in that match, so I’d rather see him there in this game too.

        If Phillips is playing like he was in the first test, I would much rather see Youngs come on than Murray.

        Also, with Davies you might be right. But the AAC try was down to nothing other than Davies. He drifted inside when he should have held his line – had he done that, he’d have tackled AAC. I can’t see how that can possibly be understanding.

      2. Jamie, i dont disagree with your comments about Murray, but to say he has had a better tour than Phillips doesnt really prove much… Phillips has been utter trash so far.

        Murray has pleasantly surprised me on the tour. having said that, he and Phillips are too similar, and it should have been one of them with Youngs.

  2. For Wales JR is the defensive leader so hopefully this should improve JDs defence. 1 on 1 he cocked it up last week but in his defence it was one of those scramble last ditch defensive lines rather than an organised one. Not much defence, he still shouldn’t have messed it up at this level.

    Hopefully North v Folau will actually be a key battle this weekend, both of them were kept out of the game too much last weekend. Or even North v AAC if they use North up the centre more. Sod it, I’d love to see North v Qantas Wallabies single handed.

    1. North will be a key player. and they need to use him more. i heard some analysis in the week saying that the best pass North has had was from a kick from Berrick Barnes… thats about right.

      The aussies will be worries by SOB too. SOB and North will likely be marked men.

      this SHOULD free up space for people like JR, JD, Bowe (who i want to see coming off his wing, taking inside balls off of Sexton, as this did not happen much in the 2nd test)

    2. Technically Brighty it was a 2 on 2 that JD cocked up for the try. BOD was signalling for JD to move out to track Ashley-Cooper, but he didn’t respond and got caught in no-man’s land.

      The were a couple of other similar incidents and given that Roberts was always going to come I n, I think that Gatland is playing safe by pairing the two of them together. It makes sense.

  3. looking at all those match ups, i think the aussies win most.

    Hibbard hasnt been great (not awful, but not great), and his throwing has gone to pot. Moore has been good so far, and the fact that he played all 80 in the first test (cant recall if he did the same in the second) proves how much they value him.

    i would back Smith to beat SOB. not because i think that SOB is a bad player, but Smith is a great of the modern game. also this is the one test when we pick a 7 who does the least breakdown work, and they pick theirs who does the most. i would expect Lydiate and Faleatu to be tasked with dealing with Smith. especially Lydiate, as the other two are the ball carriers.

    Genia vs Phillips. well this is another embarrassment waiting to happen. Genia will likely be the Australian man of the series, but if Phillips has another game like the first test, then he may pip genia to being the MVP for the wallabies. i hope that two welshmen in the backrow will help phillips out, and that he has had a rocket up his backside after the first test performance.

    Sexton vs JOC is a battle the lions can win. Sexton has pipped it so far, but only because JOC has been terrible. Gatland needs to let Sexton play how he naturally plays, there is no point in taking the best running 10 in the NH and asking him to play a different style. if you want your 10 to sit deep and kick, then why has Farrell not even stepped onto the test pitch yet? he is better suited to that style. Sexton has to be allowed to play like he normally does. (which is why dropping BOD was a mistake, but i wont go into that!)

    Leali’ifano vs Roberts. this is one that i can see going either way. very different players. Roberts needs to have a big game. its time he proves people like Greenwood right in showing that he is a “big game player” and not just off-form. Roberts’ physicality gives him an edge. i want him running at 10/12 all day long, and he had best knock a few people over. if he has a poor first half then Manu has to come on. otherwise i want to see a last 30mins with Roberts and Manu. if the Aussies can hold off a siege from those two, then they deserve a win! Leali’ifano’s goal kicking will be key for the wallabies. had he stayed on in the first test, this series could be quite different now.

    1. I hope JR is fully fit and doesn’t get injured. A defensive line of JD and Manu is a bit scary for the Lions.

      1. That’s an excellent point Brighty, I hadn’t thought about that. If Roberts goes off early we could be pretty suspect defensively. Manu has massively improved that side of his game, but his communication and organisation are still no-where near the levels of Roberts.

        1. Agreed, communication would be the concern. As last week showed, having 2 excellent players in the centre isn’t enough for defence, you need to have 2 players who practically know where the other is going to stand.

          Anyway, I have to go and have a shower now because for a fleeting moment I almost considered that Barrit would have been a good bench option… (if anyone is offended by this please take it in the humorous spirit it was intended).

    1. Or that 6/2 split could be a factor early on if the attrition rate from the first test is repeated. Lions tests have a history of being brutal encounters and with the side Gats has picked I expect we all think this could be one of the most brutal.

      1. Indeed! Since it was the backs that took the brunt of it in that test!

        One might have expected him to split 4/4!

  4. How we win:

    1) Linespeed
    We started so well last week hitting behind the gainline and the likes of AWJ and Youngs following up and disrupting after good first up tackles. JR sets the linespeed for Wales and I think we can really put some pressure on the 10, the acting 10 (Beale) or the contingency 10 (LLF) and suffocate them more effectively than last week.

    2) Scrum
    Even carrying a calf strain Corbs still had the upper hand. With Hibbard in I really fancy our chances to get after them. With a ref that rewards a dominant scrum I’m hoping we follow the blueprint of northern hemisphere wins over Aus. Ireland @ RWC, England home and away in 2010, Scotland away 2012 and France 2012 all have one thing in common, smashing Australia in the scrum. England have demonstrated you can get 2 penalty tries from the scrum and still lose, so although dominance isn’t a guarantee of success can anyone remember a performance where an NH team has posted a win without pasting them in the scrum?

    3) Survival of the Fittest
    We can outwork them, particularly with Faletau coming back in. But this will require everyone looking for work, Bowe must come looking for the angles off Sexton, North needs to come midfield (with defensive eyes focussed on JR I think North can make some serious ground).

    4) Gainline
    First test we didn’t even have a ball carrying back rower in the 23, last week we had one on the bench, now we have 2 on the pitch. I’m hoping that Mowen has his hands full with SOB and Faletau so Phillips can find a bit of space as well. With the collective threat I don’t think Australia will be able to shut us down by just putting a big man in front of JR.

    5) Bench
    Aside from Beale coming on the the first test I don’t think the Aussie replacements have been particularly impressive. Youngs, Vunipola, Gray, Tipuric and Tuilagi all offer some serious threat off the bench (please use Gray!)

    How we lose:

    1) Lineout
    I’m glad the Aussies don’t have a good game manager at 10 who can kick for the corners and put pressure on our lineout. Hibbard did throw well (after a shaky start) against the Rebels (who are a useful lineout unit). I’m expecting Australia to challenge the first few, try to disrupt it and see if Hibbard will falter.

    2) Breakdown
    Smith Vs SOB looks advantage Australia, but Faletau is pretty useful there as well. Has to be about a collective effort this week to prevent Australia getting the edge. Also hope that Smith keeps having to run backwards and around a ruck after a tackle has been made behind the gainline. I’m worried we won’t have the same success as last week though.

    3) Genia/Phillips
    Has a performance as bad as Phillips in the first test ever been rewarded with a recall? Only those in the camp know what was going on with his knee and what impact that had. He seemed to be not running, rather than running with difficulty. Taking a punt on the worst test performer in the position is a far bigger call the JD over BOD, I hope it pays off. If it’s not working (and we are losing, please don’t wait until the 60th min to change it).

    4) Game breakers
    Still think Australia have the edge in lethal runners who can cut us apart.

    1. Good post Matt, my thoughts on your how-we-lose points.

      1) Throw to the front and maul it. Not pretty, not going to get us going, but we’ll get safe ball and possibly even a penalty.

      2) We need to go for rucking beyond the ball – get the backrow together and just charge right over the ruck. However, I don’t see us doing much competing on their ruck so at best I think similar to 1st test where ruck becomes about recycling, not winning turnovers.

      3) Murray has the bench spot exactly because of this. I’m nervous – we seem to effectively be saying “let’s put Mike on and see what his mood is like”, which isn’t right. Hope Gats has the balls (and judging by this week I think he has) to pull him off if he’s not in it, even after 10.

      4) We have Bowe, North and Sexton. Yep, they’ve got more runners in the backline. However, I add SOB and Fale to the game breakers list on our side as well, I would say the Aus backrow are more spoilers, so evens it closer for me.

    2. Good points all.

      I think that the Lions bench carries a lot of dynamism and hopefully it can be used as impact, not as injury cover.

      Really get the impression that Murray is there to cover the form of Phillips rather than lift the tempo later on.

  5. Australia fresh rested settled team same captain confident expecting victory
    Lions exhausted tired unsettled team new captain hoping for victory
    Mindset wins matches..odds heavily in their favour

  6. All depends on front 5 ! The go forward starts with Adam jones , a bit surprised parling still in thought grey deserved a shout ! Also tipiric has been very unlucky !
    If we get it right Aussies will not live with us !
    I believe !
    The three Irish lads are really excited about getting there first welsh cap !

    1. Foxy, if we could keep Bowe and Sexton when we get back I would be extremely happy. Probably couldn’t afford Sexton though.

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