It’s been four agonisingly long years for the Lions since that Morne Steyn penalty which sealed the Springbok series win in South Africa, and the memory will still be fresh in those veteran Lions touring again. Their focus is solely on showing the world that the Lions, as a concept, is not outdated in a professional era by defeating one of the world’s premier teams.
The Lions starting team comprises of eight new test players and will be led by captain Sam Warburton. In the back line Leigh Halfpenny, Alex Cuthbert, George North, Jonathan Davies and Jonathan Sexton earn their first Lions cap. They are joined by the experienced Brian O’Driscoll and Mike Philips, who have a combination of 9 caps between them. The forward pack will draw from the experience of Jamie Heaslip, Tom Croft, Paul O’Connell, Alun Wyn Jones and Adam Jones who have a combined 17 caps between them. Prop Alex Corbisiero, Hooker Tom Youngs as well as Warburton will be making their debut.
The Wallabies are desperate to prove to the world that they are competitors. Two years since winning the Tri Nations against weakened Springbok and New Zealand squads (who were resting players ahead of the 2011 World Cup) the team are still struggling to strike fear into the hearts of their opposition.
Coach Robbie Deans has one last chance to keep hold of his job, a loss to the Lions would surely be the last straw after being hounded by pundits and fans alike in recent times.
Deans has introduced three uncapped players into his starting in the form of Waratahs giant speedster Isreal Folau and the Brumbies pair of no.8 Ben Mowen and center Chritian Leali’ifano.
Troubled star Kurtley Beale has been included after completing rehabilitation for his affinity for alcohol and fighting and James O’Connor will direct the backline from a relatively his new spot at no.10.
The Wallabies experience will be drawn from scrummy Will Genia, Berrick Barnes who has shifted to fullback, Adam Ashley-Cooper who will be entrusted to keep the centres tight in the face of a lights onslaught, no8 Wycliff Palu who returns from injury and a well settled front row of Ben Alexander, Stephen Moore and Benn Robinson. Star Winger Digby Ioane has also made a recovery from injury, allowing him to start and will provide extra pace and muscle out wide.
As always happens in a Lions match, there are massive battles across the field. However there are three areas where this game will be won or lost.
Up front: The Lions players are known for their skill and power at scrum time. Northern Hemisphere teams take that extra 3-5 seconds in the scrum which has proven to tire their southern hemisphere opponents who prefer the in-and-out policy when it comes to packing down. The Anglo-Welsh front row of Adam Jones, Tom Youngs and Alex Corbisiero will look to exert their dominance early on against a Wallaby front row of Ben Alexander, Stephen Moore and Benn Robinson.
In the middle: Wow, I do not think there has been a more anticipated battle than that of the centres of the Lions/Wallaby match. Ireland legend Brian O’Driscoll will pair up with Welshman Jonathan Davies, who has established himself as one of the most dangerous runners in Northern Hemisphere rugby this year, and take on the new Brumbies paring of Adam Ashley-Cooper and rookie Christian Leali’ifano. Expect some seriously hard running from Ashley-Cooper and O’Driscoll, and the Lions to target Leali’ifano, who is yet to taste the speed and ferocity of a test, let alone a Lions test.
Out wide: The battle of the speedsters! Rookie Isreal Falou has been drafted into the line-up to keep Welsh giant George North at bay and Wallaby veteran Digby Ioane is back to front up to Alex Cuthbert. The more interesting battle will be the Falou/North melee, but Ioane’s speed and size could get the better of Cuthbert, providing an area of weakness for the Wallabies to exploit. Either way, the wings are full of pace and should provide entertaining rugby.
This game could go either way. The Lions are definitely not as good as they think they are and the relatively untested Wallabies do not know how good they can be. However with 7 tour matches since unifying the home nations, the Lions do have the upper hand. While this writer is hoping for a Wallaby upset (mainly because if not he will have to deal with the British press lauding over their heros for a whole week), I feel that the Lions will edge this one by between 3-5 points.
Australia: 15 Berrick Barnes, 14 Israel Folau, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Christian Leali’ifano, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 James O’Connor, 9 Will Genia, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Ben Mowen, 5 James Horwill (c), 4 Kane Douglas, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 Saia Fainga’a, 17 James Slipper, 18 Sekope Kepu, 19 Rob Simmons, 20 Liam Gill, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Pat McCabe, 23 Kurtley Beale.
British & Irish Lions: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Brian O’Driscoll, 12 Jonathan Davies, 11 George North, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sam Warburton (c), 6 Tom Croft, 5 Paul O’Connell, 4 Alun Wyn Jones, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Tom Youngs, 1 Alex Corbisiero.
Replacements: 16 Richard Hibbard, 17 Makovina Vunipola, 18 Dan Cole, 19 Geoff Parling, 20 Dan Lydiate, 21 Ben Youngs, 22 Owen Farrell, 23 Sean Maitland.
The Decision Makers
Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Craig Joubert (South Africa), Romain Poite (France)
The Time and Place
Date: Saturday June 22
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Kick-off: 8.05pm AEST (11.05am UKST, 10.05 GMT)