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