Australia v Lions First Test: Lions player ratings

15. Leigh Halfpenny: 8
It is becoming somewhat tedious to write, but once again Halfpenny’s goalkicking was exemplary, and given the issues Australia had in this area it ultimately made the difference. Made a respectable 32 metres as well, although when he ran up a blind alley next to a ruck in the second half the entirety of the British and Irish isles held their breath until he got back up. Less of that, please.

14. Alex Cuthbert: 6
Took his try well (although his path may have been cleared ever so slightly by O’Driscoll) to expose a makeshift centre, but was otherwise quiet. Dropped a clanger of a high ball, but everyone does every now and then. Position may well come under threat from a fit-again Tommy Bowe.

13. Brian O’Driscoll: 6.5
Was unlucky to concede two breakdown penalties early on when legitimately contesting for the ball, and although he had few chances to shine in attack it was still a workhorse-like performance from the midfield veteran, who got through 11 tackles. After 12 years of hurt, finally ended up on the winning side of a Lions test match again.

12. Jonathan Davies: 6.5
Like his midfield partner there wasn’t much of the flashy stuff as there was a week ago against the Waratahs, but that does not mean it wasn’t a good performance from the Welshman. Like O’Driscoll he made plenty of tackles, but was it enough to stave off the threat of the returning Tuilagi and possibly Roberts?

11. George North: 9
Scored a try that will quite rightly go down in Lions lore as one of the best ever scored in the famous red jersey. This was the moment North announced himself as a genuine world-class winger, and that try alone was enough to earn him the MOTM award. But for a fantastic Folau intervention he would have had a second, too.

10. Johnny Sexton: 7
Although he was skinned comprehensively for Folau’s try, the beautifully balanced step of the giant Wallaby would have fooled most people so he can’t be held too accountable. Other than that he ran the back-line well and kicked with aplomb from hand.

9. Mike Phillips: 4.5
The Lions’ weakest player. Box-kicked aimlessly and was comprehensively outplayed by his opposite number Genia while being effectively shackled by Ben Mowen in attack. Looked either too slow, too tired or too disinterested to tackle or chase Genia in the build-up to Folau’s first try.

1. Alex Corbisiero: 7.5
Part of a front row that did the exact job it was picked to do – outscrummage the Wallabies. He even got his hands on the ball a few times as well, and his half-break followed by panicked shifting of the ball to Croft was almost comical. The Lions will be sweating on his fitness for the second test.

2. Tom Youngs: 8.5
Completely justified his selection ahead of Hibbard. Youngs’ rise has been astronomic and if he keeps going he could become one of the best in the world in his position. The line-out was again workless and as a former centre his work rate and speed allowed him to tear about the park to tackle and carry time and again. Must have been very close to MOTM.

3. Adam Jones: 7.5
Like his two front row pals his excellence was outlined when they were substituted in the 51st minute, a decision that would have been lambasted had the Lions ended up losing. He tripled the amount of metres he has made so far on tour with a solid three on Saturday – but we all know that is not where his true worth lies.

4. Alun-Wyn Jones: 7
Arguably Jones’ withdrawal was as crucial to the scrum disintegrating as that of the front row. He is a giant of a man in the engine room, and yet seems to be so mobile as well. With O’Connell out for the rest of the tour, a huge amount of responsibility now falls on his shoulders.

5. Paul O’Connell: 7
This morning’s news that he will miss the rest of the tour is a hammer blow to the Lions. He was everywhere on Saturday, making tackles and generally leading the red-clad troops into battle. Parling has some huge shoes to fill.

6. Tom Croft: 7
A quiet game from Croft, but by no means a bad one. All accusations of his being afraid of the nitty gritty stuff must surely be shelved now, as the reason he wasn’t seen loitering on the wing was precisely that – he was getting involved in the rough stuff. Eight tackles and 27 metres made is a respectable return, and he was the go to man at the line-out.

7. Sam Warburton: 7.5
To the great relief of most, Warburton entirely justified his selection. If the Lions in general backed away from the breakdown after seeing how it was being officiated, Warburton instead poured his huge work rate into a monumental defensive shift, topping the tackle stats with 14. Led the Lions to victory and for that must take great credit.

8. Jamie Heaslip: 6
There were some flashes of the ability Heaslip undoubtedly has, but it wasn’t really enough and he will now be under great pressure from Faletau. The scrum may have been going backwards towards the end but his control at the back of it was uncharacteristically poor.


A Jim Telfer-esque session is needed this week to shore up the replacement scrummagers, whose impact on Saturday was to concede two penalties and almost hand the game to the Wallabies. Cole, Vunipola and Hibbard know there is some hard work to be done. Ben Youngs hugely increased the tempo of the game and with Phillips looking lethargic and off-target with his kicking Youngs will push all the way for next week’s starting spot. Lydiate and Parling were introduced late on and didn’t have enough time to make a great difference, although their defensive efforts were commendable.

By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

40 thoughts on “Australia v Lions First Test: Lions player ratings

  1. Interesting how the result affects the scores. If Beale had put that kick over a lot of these players would have been down a point at least, probably 2.

    I though this was one of the worst performances of the tour. Phillips was woeful and whenever Sexton got the ball he did something sensible, would have liked to have seen him really grab the game after Cuthbert’s try and dictate, but was far too loose, which was my general feeling of the day.

    Also did anyone else feel that there was a general lack of set-piece? Meant Adam Jones was ineffectual for the most part (2 pens aside). Also AW-J was quieter than I’d hoped for in defense. The Reds game him and P’OC were much quicker off the gainline and making really disruptive hits, the Lions looked like they were trying to simply contain Aus on Sat which was a shame and I feel cost them, particularly for Folau’s try.

    1. I’m not sure there’d be that much difference, as the last two penalties came down to the replacements infringing – perhaps I should have given them a rating, but if I had, they would have been low. I think the starting players would have remained largely the same.

      Perhaps half a point of for BOD if O’Connor had nailed his kicks, or Heaslip for failing to control if Beale had got his. But other than that I’d stand by them, I don’t think it was as poor a performance as you are making out, especially as the ref effectively ruled out any contest at the breakdown after the first 5 mins.

      1. I agree, I would have gone for most of them myself. In terms of the BOD penalties I agree, the fact he wasn’t off his feet should have been illustrated by the fact that he stood up with just a bend of the hips when the whistle went.

        Felt much of our problems there were just down to the Aus defence being superior, they were harder off the line, stopped us on or behind the gainline, and committed in numbers on our ball, slowing us down. Think they looked very fit too. Worrying for next week, we need a big improvement.

  2. A win does change the scores, and rightly so, that is why you are on the pitch.

    As for the rest, I agree with a lot that was said. Our attack was not fluent which sexton has to answer for although the quality of the ball he got from phillips was not great, we rarely produced the quick ball he wanted, but lots of talk has already been made about the breakdown.

    Phillips has to go, apart from his inability to launch an attack or get over the gainline, one can’t help but think that Youngs would have had the pace to run after Genia for the first try. It has to be said that Genia is their best player and it is not unmanly to pick a player designed to stop him.

    POC is a huge loss, but he made one game allowing a lot of the debutant to have the experience which will help the likes of Warbs a lot. Parling has played well. On the bright side, his inclusion will further help Yuongs in the lineout which although was very good was also very concervative, I want to see more mauling and general atticking off the lineout next week.

    SOB should have been on the bench and shoudl be next week, he could have made an impact at the end, a few gainline carriers were what the doctors ordered.

    1. Indeed you are right, but considering that the result came down to a final kick and slip, that ought not to make any difference to the overall performances you’d think? Whether or not Beale slots it.

      I have never been a fan of Phillips and advocated from the beginning of the tour that he ought not to start. Not only is Youngs quicker in both speed of thought and foot, he works harder and offers a greater threat, despite Phillips knocking up the odd try this tour, you don’t pick a 9 to ‘muscle up’ against forwards.

      Sexton was hampered by Phillips but those situations are where truly world class players go in and have a word, just saying ‘give me the ball, i’m taking over’. It didn’t happen, but its not a major gripe as I actually thought he had a very good game otherwise.

  3. Pretty fair assessment I would say.

    I think the whole lions defensive pattern was completely thrown off by the ref. as soon as you learn that you can’t compete at the breakdown, your defence becomes much more passive. You have to similar drift and let the attack work across field, that way you can hopefully use the touch line to get a turnover. It becomes much more of a waiting game, either hoping they make a mistake, or you can force a turnover in another way. Lets hope Joubert allows a bit more contest at the breakdown.

    I am slightly surprised by the SH reffing of the breakdown, after all, this is the hemisphere that has the likes of McCaw, Pocock, Smith and Brussow… Lets hope that Pollock was a one off, and the other refs let things happen.

    1. By many accounts Pollock’s interpretation of bridging is entirely consistent with his past performances. So surely the Lions dismay comes down to poor preparation and “not playing the ref?”
      Simo’s call re the fantastic current crop of opensides in the SH also gives the lie to this.
      ps Did Warburton succeed or attempt a single turnover?

  4. If we’re discussing stats, Warburtons were pretty awful. 14 tackles and 2 missed is average for an international back row forward. He made 3 carries for 0 metres, no offloads,no passes, no defenders beaten, no clean breaks and no turnovers. What was he doing? Hoopers stats were better an he spent half the game in the centre!

    Considering he is suppossed to have such a good rapport with the refs the amount penalties conceeded was pretty poor too.

    1. If you could find the rucks hit and meters covered without ball stats, I think you would suddenly see how warburton spent his time.

      The turnovers was always going to be little to none with the way that ref was treating the lions at the breakdown.

      14 tackles was the top number, don’t really are what else warbs could have done there.

      Also, with Heaslip and Croft being his backrow partners, we never expected Warburton to hit the high carrying stats, his role was the dogged workhorse securing quick ball for the backs and other forwards to carry.

      Once again, I will quote Scott Johnson. Stats are like bikini’s they show you a lot, but not everything. The areas that warburton focused on are not those traditionally covered on public stats.

      Regarding the rapport with the ref, that will only get you so far. When the ref is so clearly out to ruin your gameplan you are always going to get pinged.
      Sam asked very calmly about the maul being pulled down and stated the lions had great momentum. Pollock replied with “I didn’t see it like that” yet he saw it fit to penalise Hooper for collapsing a maul 5m out… Based on his actions, I don’t see how he couldn’t see it “like that”. Hooper had to be binned, and the lions probably should have had a penalty try.

      Warburton played well, and he did the best he could with a VERY awkward ref.

      1. Those stats pretty clearly tell you that Warburton didnt do anything bar tackle an average amount for flanker. If his ‘rucks hit’ stat was that good then I’d expect his turn over stats to be better.

        And meters covered without the ball is totally irrelevant.

        1. Rucks hit works both offensively and defensively… Rucks hit on offence secures ball, a vital role of a flanker.

          The reason he would have stated clear of defensively hitting rucks is because the ref had such a problem with the lions trying to aggressively defend. Pollock actively looks to penalise the defending side, as SH refs often give the benefit of the doubt to the attackers. It was clever of warburton to stay out and defend.

          14 tackles was the top tackler for the lions (don’t know the wallaby stats) so you can’t criticise and say it was “average for a flanker” especially considering at one stage the lions had 75% possession. You can’t tackle if you have the ball…

          And finally, meters covered without the ball is not at all irrelevant, it’s a very accurate measure of a player’s workrate. If it was irrelevant, then why do they all wear GPS trackers now?

          For a 7 warbs had a good solid, albeit unspectacular, shift for the lions. He did the boring ugly stuff, and he did it well. I am sure you would find Richard hill would end matches with similar stats, and yet he is touted as one of the great flankers…

    1. Based on Cole’s scrummaging this tour and in the 6 nations you have to wonder whether he is going to come under pressure from Davey Wilson.

    2. Little unfair on Vunipola. We know that his scrummaging is not as strong as Corbs, but with so little time on the pitch, at a time when the Lions were under so much pressure, he didn’t get the chance to do much with the ball. If Corbs is not fit, Vunipola will start on Saturday, and if we get front foot ball we will see him come into his own. He’s also very strong in defence and will tackle for his life.

  5. Tough to disagree with most of the scores there. Agree with the comment above about the need for a Telfer style beasting during the week – though I think the whole squad could use it! The Lions will obviously know that they’ve had a let off but I think (hope) they’ll take that on board and really front up come Saturday.

    Tough to separate North and Youngs for a Lions MOM. Phillips needs to be dropped in favour of Youngs. Heaslip had a disappointing game and whilst I still prefer him to Faletau, I think you have to give Faletau the nod come the weekend. If Roberts is fit I would slot him in, if he’s not then stick with what we’ve got and have Manu on the bench for impact.

  6. I wouldnt have rated Croft that high to be honest.

    Ok, he’s needed for the lineout, but Heaslip has to cover both Warburton’s lack of match fitness and Croft’s ability to hang out on the wing. Which results in Heaslip not being able to rampage through the Aussie defence.

    1. Were you watching the same game as everyone else? I remember one occasion when Croft carried the ball on the wing – otherwise he was to be found getting stuck in in the tight.

      This is such an outdated point of view it bores me now. I’ve said it before but the only reason people think Croft doesn’t do the nitty gritty stuff is that he is so good at making breaks out wide that everything else he does gets forgotten. He simply would not be a shoo-in at the Tigers if he couldn’t/didn’t want to do the hard stuff. If this had been Lydiate people would have been praising his performance for its defensive excellence.

      1. It was said some time ago, Flankers all hang out near the wing and as you say, it’s down to the likelihood of Croft to break the line being greater than most flankers that makes it seem obvious.

        With most teams, forwards work in pods in attack and defence. You’ll have a forward group in the centre, when there’s a tackle, they dive in and support in the ruck. Another pod sits out to one side – usually the direction the ball goes in – to ruck over at the next breakdown. The flanker is usually the furthest out to the wing (sometimes 8 or second row – whichever is the most athletic).

        Yes, it brings Croft a lot of success and tries, I’m not sure why it’s seen as a problem. He did plenty of work with and without the ball.

  7. Bit undecided about Sexton. Thought he was OK but spent the last twenty minutes shouting at the screen “Play the game in their half”. That comes down to game management from your FH.

    Back row seems to be the area of most debate with people making points both for and against each of the players. Not sure that I have ever seen such a varied selection of views. Personally didn’t think any of them were bad, also didn’t think any of them were particularly good, but they did their jobs. I think it comes down to an unbalanced back row not making the most of each of their assets. I actually think that a Robshaw type player would have worked quite well, but as stated who to drop. Croft seems so important for the lineout, Warburton? Heaslip? I’m just glad I’m not coach!

  8. Looks pretty accurate, think our centres deserve a 7 neither missed a tackle, sure it had the look of a new partnership but thought they both had good games. BODs penalties could easily have been penalties to lions for holding on on another day/another ref so I can’t hold that against him.

    Personally thought it was Heaslip 7 and Croft 6. Both did what was needed and played tighter than their natural game and really got stuck in. But neither were bringing anything like the physicality Mowen was demonstrating round the fringes. As a minimum think we need SOB on the bench next week for some real impact.

    Was a little dissapointed we didn’t get in the air and put any pressure on their lineout, did we even challenge once? With the leapers we had available I’m surprised we didn’t go after them there.

  9. …. Oh and Philips is lucky to get a 4.5, the last time a flanker played that badly at 9 was Bergamasco.

    Think we have to try Youngs next week and see if Philips can make more of an impact with his physicality off the bench.

    1. Totally agree. And I think that Phillips SHOULD be dropped.

      I don’t think it is going to happen though.

      My biggest issue isn’t as much that he had a bad game (everyone does now and again) it was his sheer lack of interest at some points in the match. It’s a lions test match for god’s sake. I would drop him for the pure lack if interest and commitment.

      Having said this, I would be pretty willing to bet he won’t be dropped, and I think that this is part of the problem. I think Phillips knows that he is “key” to the gameplan, and he seems to have been told that he will start as long as he is fit. As we saw with Ashton in the 6Ns, a poor performance going unpunished can usually breed further poor form.

      I hope Phillips has taken a long hard look at himself and at least decided his performance was unacceptable, because any acceptance of that performance is not on. Unlike Murray against the Brumbies, Phillips had a tight 5 who were actually doing something.

      1. Think you may be doing Gats a mis-service, yes he had a game plan, to which Spikey Mikey was integral, but it didn’t work. He was nullified by Mowen (which is probably why he wasn’t looking too happy with life) so I would be surprised to see Gats persist with it rather than adapt and change.

  10. I tought heaslip was as good if not better than croft. he won 4/5 clean lineouts 2 turnovers (amazing considering the ref) and did his fair share of tackles / carriers might not be the work horse that falatua is but he is a pure workhorse. I thought croft was good enough but i dont understand why we are asking crof and heaslip to switch from being out wider where the both are most effective and dymamic and asking one or both of them to come in and play tighter. Why not just bring in one player be it o’brein or faletua doesnt matter let them play in tight they are both masters workhorses at this. Pick ether heaslip or croft and let them play the way they are best give them free liscence insteed of picking both . Lineout will be brought up im sure but i can guarenty wat obrien / faluta dont win in the linout they will double in tackles and carriers and at the end of the day their usualy wont be more than 10 linouts total 5 on your own throw. This is just my opinion dont think its going to change though at we probaly will see lydiate on the bench again. I love lydiate and his work rate but he doesnt realy bring anything to use as we would more than likly has between 50-65% possesion. We need some 1 more offensive than deffencive on the bench.

    1. Once again, have to disagree with your lineout analysis.

      “There won’t be more than 10 lineouts, 5 on your own throw”

      Croft took 4 lineouts, and you yourself said that Heaslip took 4/5. Add in that AWJ, POC and Warbs could all have taken lineouts, I think we have probably breached 10 lineouts with just the lions having the throw… Only 10 lineouts in a game is hogwash.

      The lineout is one of the 2 set piece, an integral part to the way that gatland wants to play. Having 4/5 lineout options is key.

      1. The Lions threw in 12 lineouts, 4 taken by Croft, 4 by Heaslip, 2 by AWJ and 2 by POC. Australia had 5 lineouts (all kept), just to backup your analysis. We’ve seen from the warmup games how key it is to have options and a functioning lineout.

      2. Karl, I stated in another thread the reasons why we need 4-5 jumpers. I will go through it briefly again.

        Main jumpers will be marked by other jumpers. Therefore, variation is best achieved by having other jumpers to be available. Croft, POC and AWJ will create space for Heaslip to jump against weaker defenders (Hooper or Palu).

        Interesting of you you bring up Matfield. Jake White (world cup winning coach with SA) has stated that Ben Mowen has an understanding of the lineout that is as good as Matfield’s. therefore the lions will need as many options as possible to counter Mowen.

        Also, your assessment that more jumpers means less lifters is clearly not correct. Players can double up and lift or jump. Ideally you will have a prop stand on the 5 and the other on the 15 all other players in the middle can either lift or jump.

    2. Not sure I see any legitimate criticism of Croft, “He scores tries running down the wing” is not a legitimate criticism. I like O’Brien and think he plays well, but the attacking threat that Croft poses just makes him the obvious starter for me. O’Brien’s versatility makes him a good bench player (much more useful than Lydiate) but frankly, I think he plays much more like Sam Warburton and I don’t see the point in starting two of the same player.

      Faletau looked decent against the Brumbies, but I don’t think he brings anything different to Heaslip who legendarily attacks up the middle and works well in the tight. Heaslip has had the more effervescent introduction to the Lions on tour so why change it.

      For me, the backrow looked fine. The only one of the 3 that missed a tackle was Warburton. Warburton and both Heaslip and Croft made good metres and a number of tackles. The only partnership I thought wasn’t great and lacked balance was possibly centre where I’d like to see BOD or JD distributing and running lines and Manu wrecking up the middle and getting on some of that ball. I feel that the Cuthbert wing and Phillips scrum half berths need to be reassessed because neither looked very threatening (Cuthbert’s try aside) and some mixing up needs to be done there. Leave the pack alone… as much as you can considering injuries.

  11. Sorry i meant in your average game not taking into acount the odd quick throw. The game on saturday had the most lineouts i have seen in a while. On the lineout opions you say we need 4/5 why do we need that many at the end of the day there are only so many lifters it doesnt matter if the same 2/3 guys taking the ball as long as its varied and there is enough movment to keep the opposition guessing. Victor Matfeild comes to mind obivously we dont have anyone as good an opperator as that (maybe o connel but he is out now). With parling asuming he will come in i cant see why we couldnt win all are own lineouts without croft/heaslip (one of them). Wounder do the two backrow tain against each other in training croft, warburton and heaslip vs o brien, tipiric, falatua, I doubth it works like that but id fancy o brein and co thats just the way i like to play doe.

  12. oh and on the o brien being simalair to warburton that is only true when he is asked to play the no.7 role. When he play 6 he is a different player. Its worth saying that o brien played some of his best rugby at no.8 for leinster when heaslip was out. If you pick him u pick him he will carry all day tackle all day and good for a 6 at the breakdown work thats what he does rarly has a very bad game

  13. Feel the corbisiero comment was a bit harsh. “Half break and panicked offload” looked more like a full line break and recognition there was a much faster player outside.

    And on that front row, what are the chances of the unit staying on until they start dropping dead?

    Phillips is, rightly, being taken to task. Oddly, though, I thought the thing I usually criticise about his play, his slow service, was perfectly fine. But what happened to spikey Mikey? He got snacked on by Mohan(?) and took the rest of the game off around the fringe. Very strange – a totally different beast to the one we saw against England.

    1. Now I’m a great fan of Corbs and thought he had an outstanding game but I saw the look of panic on his face when he made that break. It was the funniest bit of the game!

      1. Yup but also a pity, if he had held onto that ball long enough to draw the last tackler (and if Croft positioned himself well for the run) it may well have been try time!

        Clean line breaks are like solid gold at test level, have to be capitalised on!!

  14. To be honest, the more I think about it the more stupid the idea of changing an entire front row at the same time looks. Of course a front row is going to get penalised when you change them all at once. Whenever you change an individual prop, first scrum he usually gets pinged. A combination of the referee’s assumption he’s not up to speed and the fact that the opposition will always test you in a manner possibly not legal regularly leads to it. Now you change all three front rowers, you might as well have the referee give a penalty for every knock on.

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