Although these are a few words on the British Lions tour of Australia 2013 I would like to open with a cry of Alleluia!!!
This is in response to a comment attributed to Dan Carter when he suggested that the All Blacks had been granted the freedom to attack from any point on the field at any given time if they (not the coaches or analysts) felt it was the appropriate action to take.
Will this be a dominant mindset in the Lions v Australia Test Matches of the coming series? Difficult to anticipate an affirmative by looking at the two squads announced. Of course Robbie Deans is still to announce an added six players, one or two of whom could sway the debate.
For the second Lions tour in succession there has had to be a last minute change for disciplinary reasons. If, as it has been reported, Dylan Hartley called the referee a f…..g cheat, then he has received his just rewards. Rugby Union is a combination of high level emotions and physicality (and hopefully skill and intelligence) and to verbally abuse the man with the whistle is a precursor to anarchy on the field if it is not nipped in the bud.
So Rory Best, who many felt should have been in the initial selection, has taken Hartley’s place. I must admit that I felt that both were good enough to make the first call and that Hartley at his rugby focused best was a real challenger for the Test starting XV.
Whilst there were a couple of surprises I suspect that the squad was largely as expected in the Northern Hemisphere, especially after the Welsh drubbing of England in Cardiff.
This is a group dominated by Welsh players (and a captain) that Warren Gatland has worked with and trusts and which understands the way that he and Rob Howley will want them to play. I imagine that this is the reason why Dan Lydiate was chosen ahead of Tom Wood and Chris Robshaw. Lydiate has hardly played this year but is an outstanding back row forward at his best and an integral part of the Wales trio.
The squad looks strong up front with players who will, at the very least, be very solid but who will most likely attempt to dominate the set piece areas. There are sufficient players in the back five of the forwards to fiercely contest the tackle area (one of the key components of the game) and also to stay with a game that is played at tempo. The forwards will be physically very confrontational in all areas of their engagements with Australia.
It appears that the same could be said of those likely to be in the Test selection behind the scrum also. Players who have a bit more natural buzz and excitement as natural qualities, Sexton and O’Driscoll apart (and it will be interesting to see if O’Driscoll still fits this category at this level) will probably begin the tour in the midweek fifteen.
Lions tours, however, often throw up one or two bolters within the squad and Ben Youngs, Maitland and Hogg may have significant roles to play during the tour. There has been discussion in the northern hemisphere that a couple of more imaginative players with the X factor approach to the game could have been included – James Hook , Simon Zebo , Matt Scott – to bring more options and attacking challenge to the party and I do pray that there is no regret in leaving such players behind.
I say this because I hope the Lions do not put all their eggs into the physically confrontational attacking basket. This is a possibility given the route that Wales have gone down (successfully I admit) in the Six Nations but not one I feel that will bring untroubled success against an Australian side that has for years found a way to win against opposition stronger and more direct in their approach.
Whilst always agreeing that the basics and physicality are foundations of the game I would hope that a group of players and coaches drawn from four of the world’s major Rugby playing nations can, at the least, come up with;
A game that has some surprises
A game that the opposition analysts cannot easily dissect
A game that is OPPORTUNISTIC and OPTIMISTIC in mindset.
We shall see!!!
Robbie Deans has announced an initial squad with six more players to be added. Since announcing this, the dreaded injury toll has been mounting, though at the time of writing only Polota-Nau will definitely miss the whole series.
At first glance the big news is around those left out, especially Quade Cooper (in good form alongside Genia in the Super 15) and Kurtley Beale. On their day both of these in the correct supporting environment can be Test match winners and I would not be surprised if they made an appearance at some point.
Deans will be hoping also that Digby Ioane recovers from injury for the first test and that the exciting talent of Israel Folau makes a swift transition to International Rugby. A back division with the above four scampering around the pitch from both set piece and in broken play would be worth paying to watch!
My initial reaction to reading the names in the Australian squad was one of disappointment that this had been a reaction to the “slabs of meat” comment of the Lions make- up. To emphasise this further I checked on Robbie Deans comments at the press conference;
" We understand what is coming and that the Lions have a very experienced combination……They have a physical side, particularly in the back line, so we have to deal with it ! "
So there we have it! Are Australia also putting their mindset eggs into one basket by selecting a group to combat the Lions rather than going down the time honoured Aussie route of finding a challenging way to play (and win) International Rugby with less that 40-50 % decent possession? Or are they just acknowledging that they are ready to fight the war toe to toe, but with the additional six players to be announced they will bring a taste of the dangerously unknown and unpredictable to the series?
The scene is not quite set but there is little doubt in my mind that this could be one of the more intriguing Lions Tours. The Lions need a win (Gatland has been promised a bonus if this happens!) and this may be the decisive pointer to how they approach the Tests. My gut feeling before Deans announced his squad was that Australia might squeeze it; now I am not so convinced but await his additions and pray for a series that has all the exciting elements of top level Rugby Union.
As The Lions get closer to landing in Aus, how do you feel this one will go? Comments below…