Australia v Lions Second Test: 5 key battles

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Ben Alexander v Mako Vunipola

Vunipola has been a revelation this tour. He was a bit of a wildcard pick initially, but in the warm-up games his ball-carrying ability and willingness to offload caught the eye, and with injuries to Cian Healy and Gethin Jenkins he soon became a lot of people’s first choice at loosehead. There are, however, doubts surrounding his technique in the scrum, and last weekend he was part of a reserve front row that had serious trouble in the final quarter, almost losing the game for the Lions. Ben Alexander, while not renowned for his scrummaging, will certainly fancy his chances in this area as he has a wealth of experience to call upon. Is this the weekend the Australians finally put to bed the theory that they can’t scrummage? Quite possibly.

Ben Mowen v Dan Lydiate

The decision to call Lydiate up in favour of Croft is an interesting one. The Lions looked a little passive in defence last week, allowing the Australians to run at them, so Lydiate’s selection suggests they will be more aggressive this time out – there is no one better at chopping attackers down behind the gain-line than the combative Welshman. Mowen will also likely have a different task this week. His job in the first test was clearly to shackle Mike Phillips, and it was one he executed with aplomb. Ben Youngs, however, is an entirely different type of scrum-half, with a game based on pace rather than power, and this will mean Mowen has to be prepared to get around the park a bit more.

Will Genia v Ben Youngs

This is possibly the most exciting match-up on the pitch (although North and Folau would probably make it a tie). Youngs has a fantastic record against Genia, having started twice and won twice, both times playing a blinder. The Australian, however, was immense in the first test, underlining his credentials as the best scrum-half in world rugby with a dazzling 70m run and assist, as well as several other neat touches. The ploy of using Mike Phillips’ physicality to unsettle him failed spectacularly, so this week it will be up to Youngs, a much more like-for-like player, to outplay him at his own game. If they can slow Genia down the whole Wallaby game-plan will be unsettled.

Christian Leali’ifano v Jonathan Davies

After forcing the debutant Leali’ifano off the field with his first touch of the ball last weekend, there is only one thing Jon Davies will be doing tomorrow when he gets the ball: running hard and fast at his opposite man. Leali’ifano will be desperate to stay on the pitch for longer this time around, and if he does he has the potential to cause serious damage. With himself, O’Connor and Beale all more than capable of filling the play-maker role, it will be vital that Davies tries to unsettle the newcomer a bit. On top of that he is likely to be given the goal-kicking responsibilities, so all the better if Davies can rattle him early on.

Israel Folau v George North

The breathtaking battle between these two giant wingers was a fascinating subplot last weekend, and it is set to continue in the second test. Both are silky, well-balanced runners, who seem capable of scoring from anywhere on the pitch. They each have the ability to round a man with one sidestep, as Berrick Barnes and Johnny Sexton know only too well, and like to pop up in the midfield as well. Any kicking, especially boxes from the scrum-halves, will have to be pinpoint to avoid allowing these two any space or time to work with.

By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

6 thoughts on “Australia v Lions Second Test: 5 key battles

  1. Alexander/Vunipola is the most important one. The winner will put one team on the front foot enabling all of the others to operate. Here’s hoping that Vunipola silences all of his scrummaging critics.

      1. Just looking at some of the Lions player stats for this tour…

        http://www.lionsrugby.com/2013tour/player_stats.php

        Vuniploa:
        – Has made the 4th greatest number of carries
        – Joint 8th for numbers of defenders beaten
        – Is 6th in the list of ‘most offloads’
        – Is 2nd in the list of ‘top tacklers’

        Not sure these have been updated after the Tues game, but he’s making an incredible contribution regardless.

        Fingers crossed for the big man in the scrum, but I wonder what odds I can get on him scoring a try ….

  2. I think the passive defence from the lions in the first test was largely due to Pollock.

    He was clearly out to punish the defending side (a common reffing style in the SH) to promote and attacking game. So the lions had to simply wait for things to happen, while just soaking up the tackles. If Joubert refs in the same way (very possible) then Lydiate will have been a very clever choice.

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