Lions v Australia first test: 6 important match-ups

Alex Corbisiero v Ben Alexander

With Corbisiero packing down at loosehead and Alexander at tight, these two will spend a lot of time staring daggers at each other. Cobisiero’s selection was arguably one of the bigger surprises, given his late arrival to the tour, but it tells us exactly how Gatland feels about the scrums. The Englishman is one of the best scrummaging looseheads around, and while Mako Vunipola is highly unlucky to have to settle for a bench spot, it is a signal of Gatland’s intent to dominate the set piece. Alexander has his critics in Australia for his scrummaging – with some commentators saying Slipper should have got the nod – so he will have to be at his best to deny Corbisiero getting his way.

Paul O’Connell v James Horwill

This is a titanic battle in the engine room. Horwill is captain of the Aussies and fierce leader, and while O’Connell will not be wearing the armband on Saturday there’s no doubt he will be a huge source of leadership and experience on the pitch. O’Connell runs the line-out, an area that Tuesday’s game against the Brumbies proved is absolutely vital to getting a foothold in the game. Both line-out units will have plenty of options and ability to disrupt opposition ball, so the way they are handled will be vital and makes O’Connell’s role all the more important.

Sam Warburton v Michael Hooper

The back row was such a heated debate coming into the tour, and little has changed. As tour captain, Warburton was always in the driving seat, but such was the form of O’Brien and Tipuric that many expected them to feature. As it is, neither are even on the bench, which only focuses further the spotlight that will be on Warburton’s performance on Saturday. Michael Hooper is a breakdown expert and if the Lions skipper is not on top of his game his team can wave goodbye to a solid attacking platform. With Liam Gill, another traditional openside, on the bench, there will be little respite for Warburton. His performance will be as fascinating as it is vital to the Lions’ chances.

Mike Phillips v Will Genia

Two scrum-halves with completely contrasting styles come together on Saturday. Mike Phillips is big and brash, all power and niggle, while Will Genia’s rapid service, pace and subtlety around the fringes make him the best scrum-half in the world in most peoples’ books. It is an intriguing one, especially with Ben Youngs – a much similar operator to Genia – on the bench. Phillips will look to use his aggression to get under Genia’s skin, but you suspect the Aussie is too experienced and canny an operator to fall for that. Expect to see Youngs come on around the 60 minute mark to run at tired legs, but until then it will be down to the big Welshman to keep Genia quiet. Good luck to him.

Johnny Sexton v James O’Connor

James O’Connor starts just his second international match at fly-half, and no matter how good a player he is that will mean he is likely to make a couple of errors. Johnny Sexton is vastly more experienced and will have to use it all to out-think what is a very capable Wallaby back line. Both O’Connor and Sexton are accomplished running backs, but where Sexton has the edge is his territorial kicking game. With Ioane and Folau on the wings, it will be interesting to see how often he takes this route and looks to turn them. Neither is expected to be goal-kicking, with Halfpenny and Barnes taking those duties respectively, so they will be able to focus on getting their back lines going. If that happens, there are some wonderfully talented attacking footballers on show, and we could be in for a cracking game.

Brian O’Driscoll v Adam Ashley-Cooper

There are 202 caps between these two, which tells you all you need to know about how important they are to their respective sides. Both are defensive generals, but Ashley-Cooper is especially important to the Wallaby defensive plan, given the relative inexperience of the men inside him (O’Connor has plenty of caps, but only one as a front-line defender at 10). Both are equally dangerous in attack, and while Ashley-Cooper might have the edge in pace – given O’Driscoll’s years – the Irishman has a greater capacity to come up with that little bit of brilliance that can change a game. The Australians will remember when exactly that happened in the opening test twelve years ago, and Ashley-Cooper and pals will be intent on keeping an eye on the Irish magician so lightening doesn’t strike twice.

By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

18 thoughts on “Lions v Australia first test: 6 important match-ups

  1. James Horwill will not be calling lineouts, Ben Mowen will be.

    That’d be a major reason he was selected and Douglas was picked over Simmons (another major caller).

    On the subject of Simmons, Horwill doesn’t even call lineouts for the Reds, let alone the Wallabies.

      1. apparently Jake White has said Mowen will be as important to the Wallaby lineout as Matfield was the the Boks’ lineout, and his understanding is as good as Victor’s… thats a hell of a build up!

    1. It was initially a top 5, but I had to squeeze another in there as there were too many good ones… even then I changed my mind a fair few times! Croft v Mowen at the line-out, North v Folau in the battle of the giant wingers, Ioane’s potential to expose Cuthbert in defence, Leali’ifano v Davies at 12… too many to mention!

      1. So, one might say, it was .. aherm .. 15 important match-ups then mightn’t one? Don’t mind me

  2. 2 of your match ups will be hugely impacted by other selections.

    The selection of both Heaslip & Croft means Warburton won’t be free to jackal as he’ll be having to make the tackles that his colleagues won’t be making. Hooper will be licking his lips.

    Likewise Phillips will be making too many tackles around the fringes to play at his best.

    1. often jackaling 7’s are targeted by runners so that they are not available to jackal.

      take Julian Salvi in the HC semi against Toulon as an example. he made a very number of tackles, but was lower than his usual count in turnovers.

      i would expect the Aussies to target Warburton and make him tackle instead of freeing him up to jackal.

      similarly, Croft showed good jackalling skills in the Tahs game, as did POC. in fact, i believe both of these two had higher turnover/penalties won stats than Warburton did in that match. i am not suggesting Warbs is bad at it, simply that people target him to make tackles so that you dont have him free to slow up/steal ball.

      i would highly expect the lions to send their big runners at Hooper, thereby taking him out of the contest at ruck time.

        1. With Youngs, Corbisiero and BOD, the Lions are pretty well served for good Jacklers when Warburton is targeted in the tackle. It’s a pretty good balance.

  3. Those are all interesting match ups, I agree with Simo about the 7’s being targeted as tacklers, the team that will win the breakdown will probably come from someone who is freed up to work at the breakdown, someone like Heaslip for us, Or Mowen for them. I think that if Phillips can tame Genia then the match should be ours, they’ve an inexperienced 10 who isn’t of the same quality as Sexton, I expect we’ll play for field position and really target the set piece so the front 5 will be the stars of the show for whoever wins.

  4. the breakdown is far more than one guy and the lions have a tight 5 that can hit rucks POC, AWJ and younds are all good and when Cole come on you can add him to that list.

    As for Croft and Hisleap theya re not a lazy as they are made out to be sure they stand in the backs but has it occured to anybody that they are told to do that by the coach so they are an attacking weapon.


    Sexton is a better 10 than any of the Aussies sure, but after him we are thin on the ground, AUS have Beale, Barns, and even Cooper could be drafted in. If Sexton breaks we could be in trouble.

    1. Completely agree re Croft and Heaslip being asked to stand in the backs – they’re definitely instructed to do so, and then when they make the flashy breaks it’s forgotten that they always get stuck into the nitty gritty stuff as well! It’s a convenient argument for people who don’t appreciate their style of play.

      Anyway, enough arguing, I’m happy they’re both in the team and hope they can wreak the havoc they have done so far tomorrow!

  5. Should be a great test really looking forward to it
    Both teams look strong, I would have liked to have SOB
    coming off the bench but still a very strong
    Lions side Go the Lions

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