It has been good to see the Lions play so much rugby and not unexpected. Warren Gatland knows that Australia are no mugs. If the Lions were just going to bash then the Aussie defence would have stood up to the battering. They are not short of bravery. You have to be cleverer than that.
And there are some good signs – as well as problems to be solved – from the Lions backs. A lot of people had assumed that Mike Phillips would start the tests, but I am pleased to see how well Ben Youngs has been going. That kid is outstanding.
When the pressure comes on, the English scrum-half can take it, and he has been very successful in the past against Australia. Youngs is a great arc runner and he is quick to clear turnover ball. There is much more zip about his play than the other two half backs. Mike Phillips is big and physical but he doesn’t get a backline going like Youngs.
I would like to see Youngs start with Sexton, and then Brian O’Driscoll has to play at 13. He is a critical component and one of the best I have coached against. You can see he is up for it and he has the guile that you would expect from one of the all time greats. But who plays inside him? Jamie Roberts did not go well the other night, so 12 is one of those problems that has to be solved.
The loss of Tommy Bowe from the back three for the first test is a blow. The Irishman is one of the best in the world at running off the half backs and was playing superbly. George North does not quite have Bowe’s level of anticipation, but he is very dangerous and the coaches have been getting him involved off his wing and on the counter attack.
But who is the other wing? The answer may be to play Rob Kearney at full back and Leigh Halfpenny on the wing. If you look at the All Blacks at the World Cup and in the current series against France, they favour backfield ball players rather than specialists. That could be particularly important to the Lions if Robbie Deans uses his 10, 12 and 15 to play a kicking game. He certainly has the players in his squad to target the Lions that way and he tried it against New Zealand in the World Cup semi.
Upfront the Lions are looking bloody strong. Vunipola has been going well at loosehead and Alex Corbisiero may also come into the reckoning. Adam Jones is the assumed starter on the tighthead, but Stevens and Cole have more agility around the fringes of the ruck and maul and are less likely to get picked off.
In the second row Geoff Parling has been impressive and is good on the opposition lineout ball. He could well team up with Paul O’Connell. Richie Gray is athletic and has that x factor, but the grunts could win selection.
My backrow would be Warburton, Heaslip and Lydiate, although Tipuric made it a competitive selection process, as we always knew it would be. They all have a high work rate and are a fairly constructive group.
But then the same could be said of the Lions. They have started well against questionable opposition. The trick is to keep it going.