Australia v Lions Second Test: Preview and Prediction

lions
After last week’s nerve-shredder in Brisbane, the sea of red rolls into Melbourne for the second and potentially series-defining test. If the first test was tense, this could be on another level. Both sides have made changes, enforced or otherwise, so there will be some new combinations on show.

British and Irish Lions

Warren Gatland has shown his ruthless side in making five changes to the side that won last weekend, with only two of these due to injury. Mako Vunipola comes onto the loose-head side of the scrum for the injured Corbisiero, with Geoff Parling in the engine room for Paul O’Connell. This should have a positive impact in the loose, with Vunipola’s rampaging ball-carrying, and at the line-out, where Parling is one of the shrewdest operators around.

In the back row Dan Lydiate fills Tom Croft’s boots, possibly showing Gatland’s fear that without O’Connell and Corbisiero the pack is a bit lightweight – Lydiate is certainly a more combative option than the languid Croft. Behind the scrum, Ben Youngs is preferred to Mike Phillips, who drops out of the 23 entirely – according to Gatland because he is being rested for the final test, but at such a pivotal moment in the series that is surely just an excuse. He was poor last week, not finding a way to imprint his style onto the game and the quicker service and pace of Youngs is a sensible change for this week, especially opposite the live-wire Genia.

Tommy Bowe also comes into the team at the expense of Alex Cuthbert, marking a miraculous recovery from a broken hand suffered just three weeks ago. His partnership with George North had looked lethal until then, and Lions fans will hope they can hook up again in the same way. Davies and O’Driscoll continue in the centres, with Tuilagi apparently not having done enough to convince Gatland he is worthy of inclusion.

On the bench he has gone for the bold call of having no specialist lock, with Tom Croft able to cover there. The danger is that if one of the first choice second rows – particularly the giant Alun-Wyn Jones – gets injured early on, the Lions scrum becomes extremely lightweight. We saw what happened last weekend when the first choice scrummaging unit went off – would the Lions be able to cope with a whole game like that? Probably not.

Key player: Leigh Halfpenny

Halfpenny underlined his importance again last week with another near-flawless goal-kicking display, that ultimately made the difference on the scoreboard. With the whistle-happy Craig Joubert in charge this week – he awarded a record 28 penalties in the recent Scotland v Wales Six Nations match – there are likely to be plenty more opportunities for Halfpenny to punish the Australians again. If he is successful, it will be a huge ask for the men in gold to win this one.

Australia

Despite an injury-ridden first test – particularly behind the scrum – Robbie Deans has named arguably an even more lethal looking back-line this weekend. He has chosen to back James O’Connor at fly-half despite the Melbourne Rebel, who has spent more playing time elsewhere in the back-line, having a mixed time of things last weekend. In fact his clubmate Kurtley Beale, who starts at fullback, usually takes the no.10 jersey at the Rebels, with O’Connor at 15. Once again this highlights the disenchantment and difference in thinking of the national set-up and the franchises.

Up front Ben Alexander will be licking his lips at the prospect of getting stuck into Mako Vunipola in the scrum – in fact the whole pack will be confident of having the upper hand here with the absence of Corbisiero and O’Connell from the Lions’ ranks. Ben Mowen was integral in the shackling of Mike Phillips in the first test – he will have his work cut out this week against the livelier Ben Youngs.

Adam Ashley-Cooper has recovered sufficiently to retake his place at outside centre, partnering again Christian Leali’ifano. Outside him Joe Tomane comes onto the wing in place of the injured Digby Ioane, while Israel Folau, who showcased last week his outrageous ability, continues on the other flank. It is a devilishly exciting back-line, and one that surely cannot suffer the same spate of unfortunate injuries as last weekend.

Key player: Christian Leali’ifano

The Brumbie inside centre went off after 30 seconds in the first test – technically his debut – so will be hoping to get a rather longer taste of international rugby this time round. As has been stated already, with Joubert in charge there will probably be plenty of opportunities to kick at goal, and if Leali’ifano is entrusted with the kicking repsonsibilties – as he was supposed to be last weekend – he will undoubtedly be the key player. As a much better distributor and runner than Pat McCabe, his replacement in the first test, he is also vital to the Wallaby game-plan, and with backs outside him the calibre of Folau and Beale, he is the creative linchpin in the midfield.

Prediction

It doesn’t get any easier. The Lions pack looks less likely to dominate, especially at scrum-time, than last week, meaning the Australian back-line – which looks just lethal – could have a greater bearing on the game. With Craig Joubert in charge, however, there will be plenty of chances to kick for points and in this category the Lions, with Leigh Halfpenny, win hands down. For that reason I think it will be another narrow Lions win, bringing them their first series victory since 1997. Lions by 2.

By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43

12 thoughts on “Australia v Lions Second Test: Preview and Prediction

  1. No question where the ball will be going when the lions get their first chance to run. JD or North will be charging straight at Leali’ifano.

    It sounds harsh, but the lad lasted less than a minute last week. And he is the goal kicker. The lions are going to give him a nice little welcome and see if they can’t rattle him a bit.

    The wallabies have some great, and very talented backs, but I don’t think they have the mental fortitude of someone like Halfpenny or Farrell when it comes to kicking. 10-12 is the target channel for the lions anyway, so they will want to tire the kickers out and see if they can’t force a few misses at goal.

  2. The more I reflect on the first test, the more I realise the Lions need a huge step up this week.

    – A first run out for the Wallabies
    – A fly half that put in a no-show
    – Losing their kicker in the first min
    – Losing 4 backs

    To scrape a fortuitous 2 point win in those circumstances isn’t that impressive.

    Keys to victory:

    1) B. Youngs, Please don’t fall for Genia’s Jedi mind tricks.

    Last week Genia bigs up the threat of Philips, says they are worried about the damage he does round the fringes. He sets the trap and Philips falls in. This week he’s talking about Youngs running round the fringes and putting a player through the gap. Ben, ignore him!!!! Get quick ball to Sexton, don’t try and do it all yourself. The gaps will open up later.

    2) Mix up the lineout.

    If they are loading the backs lets set up some big drives at the front/ middle and have T.Youngs & Vunipola make some charges down the 5m channel. Mix it up, make them move their lineout threats forward, to create some space at the back.

    3) Smash em!

    Vunipola, Parling and Lydiate all add to the tackle count (not that Corbs or POC are slouches). Pulverise them in the tackle and get after JOC. Part time FHs do not fare well on the back foot.

    Don’t worry about getting hands on the ball at the ruck, just smash the man out of the way. I think we can find a physicality and intensity they can’t live with that gives Genia no clean ball to work with.

    4) Do not kick down the back 3’s throat.

    Going long with a poor chase will result in disaster, as they are more potent that last week. With Parling being such a good poacher we shouldn’t be afraid of putting it dead and challenging.

    5) No planned replacements.

    Replace for injury, because someone is losing their individual battle, they are exhausted and are incapable for playing another min, or because we are behind and what we are doing isn’t working. The clock ticking to 50:00 isn’t a good reason. No need to manage workloads or rotate squads, empty the tank tomorrow.

    Lions by 5!

    1. Don’t agree completely regarding Youngs. He needs to make the occasional snipe to keep the defence honest and open up space out wide. But don’t do a Phillips and try to do it every other ball.

      1. My hunch is they have baited the trap, and will be defending tighter at the start, waiting for him. So get them to stretch first and then look for the gaps.

        Quicker ball to Sexton, who can then play much flatter and they will have to move out much faster, then dummy and go!

      2. This phrase. What are the defenders meant to be telling lies about. Oh I’m from portugal don’t you know, no you’re not and I can prove it by throwing a dummy and slipping past you………

  3. Lions have to keep it tight and hope that the backline can create off first phase ball, Bowe will help in this catagory. I hope to see more of Sexton this week, he flashed brilliance last week but the sservice was slow and inaccurate, Phillips AND the forwards are to blame for this, with youngs at 9 and Lydiate at 6 I hope the service is of higher quality this week.

    The Lions had lots of success in mauling and pick and go last week, we should have had a penalty try from a maul, I am hoping the analysts have seen this and will focus more on the tight game. Lydaite again is a good organiser in the maul and for all Vunipolo’s shortcomings in the scrum he is good at making yards around the fringes, Parling too makes lots of 3-4 metre run, so we do have a positive with those 2. With SOB on the bench AUS will get no rest in this area.

    If the Lions keep it tight, but quick, Youngs needs get his forwards running onto the ball quicker, maul and pick and go, we will win. Ok the set piece is lighter but we have more powerful ball carriers, the strength of this pack is they have Maco, Youngs, Parling, AWJ, Hisleap, and Lydaite, all of them can make yards up the middle and there is fire power on the bench. Halfpenny to kick the inevitable penalties.

    The good news in the backs is even thought he AUSIES look even more more dangerous out wide, how is that possible, our defence has been strengthened as well. Bowe is a far better defender than Cuthbert and Youngs has the pace to track Genia if he makes a break.

    Looking forward to:

    Ben Youngs

    I would have started with him, but Phillips is a gats fav. He always play well against AUS, he is not scared of Genia (maybe should be), people talk of X factor, he has it.

  4. Very good points Matt and entirely correct

    The other thing about Parling is that he is very good at charging down opposition kicks. Get him up in JOC’s face and we may see a couple charged down.

    Might not lead to anything but it will dent confidence

    1. I think Parling’s really underrated Pablito, he may not be the biggest unit, but playing alongside Launchbury for Eng. who by current standards is not the heaviest 2nd Row going they don’t struggle for power at scrum time.

      He is also a very good ball carrier, mostly because he runs intelligently. He doesn’t try and bust holes through 2 other forwards, he hits shoulders, uses his footwork and usually gets his body beyond the gainline everytime he carries. Think his inclusion could be a plus for the Lions in many respects.

      1. Agree with you. For a man who looks quite slight, he carries the ball very effectively. More concerned at the loss of power in the rucks that POC adds

    2. Good point on the chargedown skills.

      I was of the opinion that Parling was too small, but he’s fronted up against the Boks and the ABs admirably.

      He may not be as abrasive as POC, if he is smaller/lighter it can’t be by much. AWJ is also a proper 19 stone lock, because he’s a good all round player and “not just a big lump” it’s easy to forget that he is still an imposing physical presence.

  5. Hoping to see a more explosive first 20 from the Lions this week. I was sure last week they would hammer Aus for 20 and the result would hang on how much pressure they were able to convert, but they were so sluggish, in the carry, defensive press, even the backs execution and timing was a little off.

    Hoping that the likes of AWJ and Lydiate can really lead the line in the first 20, straight from that first kick off making a statement, something we lacked last week.

    Also the more unpredictable Aus are the stronger they’ll be, as per Genia last week. We need to keep the game structured and with more set plays to dictate tempo.

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