Brumbies v British and Irish Lions: Preview and prediction

lions
The final tour game prior to the beginning of the test series sees the Lions travel to Canberra to take on the Brumbies, and given the strengths of the two squads selected, it could well be their biggest challenge to date.

British and Irish Lions

It’s been a busy week for Warren Gatland’s side who, thanks to a number of injuries, have had to call up the likes of Christian Wade, Billy Twelvetrees and Brad Barritt as cover, whilst Welsh legend Shane Williams has been drafted in with the sole purpose of taking on the Brumbies, and allowing other Lions the chance to rest up ahead of the first test. All four of these players start against the Brumbies, whilst full-back Rob Kearney makes his first start on tour, and Stuart Hogg and Ben Youngs get their last opportunities to try and force their way into Gatland’s test squad. They face the talented duo of Jesse Mogg and Henry Speight in the Brumbies back line, and if they can perform well against this calibre of opposition, there is an outside chance they could yet feature in the first test, especially with both Jamie Roberts and Tommy Bowe almost certainly ruled out, and George North’s hamstring still raising concerns.

Outside of loosehead prop, the Lions have thus far enjoyed a relatively injury free tour in the pack, and many of the forwards selected for the Brumbies game will face an uphill battle to be in contention for that first test squad. Rory Best, who captains the side, will attempt to resolve the lineout troubles that have plagued him of late, whilst the nicely balanced back row combination of Sean O’Brien, Justin Tipuric and Toby Faletau will all want to add to Gatland’s selection nightmare in that area. Although the Brumbies pack is bolstered by the returns of Peter Kimlin and Scott Sio from the Wallaby squad, the Lions will be looking to dominate at the breakdown and set piece, and provide a solid platform for an as yet untested back line, and ease their transition into the tour as much as possible.

One to watch: Christian Wade

The winger was a real candidate to be a bolter when Gatland announced his initial squad, but will instead have to take his chance in this fashion instead. The popular criticism of Wade is that his defence is poor, and that he is a liability under the high ball, but these are areas of Wade’s game which have come on leaps and bounds in the last season, and Wade was superb under the high ball as recently as England’s first test against Argentina. If the Lions can get him the ball in space, Wade could cause havoc against the Brumbies back line, and potentially push himself into a position to be an x-factor in the latter tests.

ACT Brumbies

The Brumbies have been severely depleted by the Wallabies, losing the likes of Ben Alexander, Ben Mowen and Stephen Moore in their pack, as well as Christian Lealiifano and Pat McCabe from their backs, and although they have one of the deeper squads amongst the Australian franchises, their replacements are a significant drop-off in quality.

The Brumbies back row combination of Scott Fardy, Colby Faingaa and Kimlin should not be underestimated, and will be highly competitive with the Lions’ unit, providing a stern test for those men seeking to upset the odds and make the test squad. The front row of Ruan Smith, Siliva Siliva and Sio is another powerful group, and although they’re shorn of Alexander and Moore, should still provide a strong challenge to Ryan Grant, Matt Stevens and Best.

Not only have the Brumbies been the form Australian team, but arguably also the form team in all of Super Rugby. They currently top the table, and would like nothing more than to add the Lions’ scalp to what already promises to be a very successful season for the franchise.

One to watch: Henry Speight

Speight has been sensational for the Brumbies this season, illustrated by the fact he is currently the joint-top try scorer in Super Rugby, and could give the new look Lions back line real problems if he is not looked after. Speight would be with the Wallaby squad if it were not for an issue with his eligibility yet to be concluded, but the Lions should not make the mistake of taking Speight lightly, as he is, without doubt, an international quality winger.

Prediction

This game has all the hallmarks of a potential banana skin for the Lions. Whilst the addition of Wade could add reassurance to the fans, with so many new arrivals in the back line, fluency is likely to be at a premium for the visitors, and this could be dangerous with the likes of Speight and Mogg lined up opposite them. That being said, the Lions should have an edge in the forwards, and if they can give the likes of Twelvetrees, Wade and Kearney a good platform, scoring opportunities will arise. Lions by 5.

by Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport)

5 thoughts on “Brumbies v British and Irish Lions: Preview and prediction

  1. Christian Wade is often accused of having bad defence. OPTA Stats countered this by showing that he had a tackle completion rate of 86% for the 2012/13 season, compared to the average for a winger of 83%.

    I appreciate that Ashton probably skewed the average for Premiership wingers, but hey.

  2. Struggling with this one. Does the pack take on the responsibility of the jersey and keeping the momentum into the first test? Or are they (tight 5 especially) a few percent off as they are unlikely to be featuring in the test and personally disappointed?

    It seems a tight and united squad, hopefully a bit of siege mentality over the cheat comments and injury adversity as well. So fingers crossed we’ll come through, can’t see a case for a wider margin than 5 though.

  3. It’s really a no-lose situation for Wade. He flops, it’s because the backline only met each other for the first time 36 hours before kick off…he owns it, he’s the new Jason Robinson and goes straight into serious consideration for the test team.

    Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this game though is how the Lions will adapt their game plan. Gatland loves powerful wingers to storm up the middle of the park – his biggest winger in this side is the size of a large toddler. He wants a brute of a 12 to truck the ball up and draw in defenders – he has a 12 who is decent on the crash but is far more of a cultured playmaker. He wants his 10 to play the corners and manage the game – he has a bloke playing fly half for only the second time in his career. But we seem to have forgotten that with all the call ups.

    The above is not to say that the Lions can’t be effective, but the pack looks far more experienced and settled, and I would suspect that Plan A is to suffocate the life out of the smaller and less experienced Brumbies pack, by playing hard and aggressive rugby around the fringes. That way, space will eventually open up out wide – which is where Wade and Williams will be lethal.

    Tomorrow is the tour game the Lions are most likely to lose – but it’s also the game that may just throw up a few gems.

    My preview and prediction for the game is on my (slightly less impressive) blog (plus a video of Healey v Harrison from the Brumbies clash in 2001 – well worth a watch!). Google “Rucked Over” and have a peek!

  4. Brumbies by 2, i’m such a Rugby genius, All Blacks by 50 because they’re da bomb!

    AYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYE!

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