Two games into the three-match series, the British and Irish Lions are up by a point and Australia are one try ahead. After a week dominated by Brian O’Driscoll’s omission, how will it end?
My heart yearns for a Lions win but my head says the Australians will be victorious, especially as their captain, James Horwill, has now been cleared to play in the final test, writes Juan Ruiz.
It would be a Herculean effort, both mentally and physically, for the Lions to secure the series. I consider the decision to drop O’Driscoll, who even loses out on a squad place to Manu Tuilagi, a mistake. It suggests coach Warren Gatland has decided to play straight up the middle – and with no plan B.
The other notable absentee will be Lions captain Sam Warburton, following his hamstring tear in the second test. He will be greatly missed after turning in a true captain’s performance last weekend. With Warburton out, selection in the all-important back row is open to conjecture.
I would bring in Justin Tipuric as I believe the Lions need a true open side to combat the outstanding Michael Hooper and put extra pressure on James O’Connor, the Australians’ fly half, who so far has not looked convincing with his distribution to the improving Ashley Cooper and Christian Lealiifano in the centre.
The decision to put Toby Faletau in at number eight is one I agree with. Jamie Heaslip has been anonymous in his two other outings, and Faletau has performed with great vigour and aggression in the midweek games. I think he will also give more protection against the outstanding Will Genia, the Aussie scrum half.
This leaves the blind side berth, where I would have changed gone back to Tom Croft to give another option at the lineout, which is badly needed, and pace in the open, offering something slightly different to the Lions attack. But coach Gatland has stuck with a back row of Lydiate and O’Brien, with Faletau in between them.
The tight five will see the return to the front row of Alex Corbisiero to give the Lions the solidity that they missed with the valiant but unreliable Mako Vuinipola. Richard Hibbard has been included in preference to Tom Youngs, who has performed admirably but who looked mentally and physically tired towards the end of his performance in the second test.
With the now indispensable Wyn Jones and Geoff Parling in the second row (the former as captain), and Jones in the front row, this complete the likely forwards selection.
Jamie Roberts has been drafted back into midfield, with Jonathan Davies moved to his more familiar position of outside centre at the expense of Brian O’Driscoll. Mike Phillips is back in favour after his exclusion from the second test – due to injury, we were told. Youngs did his best in the second test and got the ball away swiftly, but he did not hold the interest of the Australian back row sufficiently, as a reinvigorated Phillips might.
I had hoped that with less pressure on Jonathan Sexton, he would be able to be more expansive and give Brian O’Driscoll more time to weave some attacking magic. The back three remain the same, but I hope they will see more of the ball in attack and be able to take the game to the Wallabies.
The Australians last week showed much more inventiveness in attack than the Lions, with Kurtley Beale, Will Genia and Israel Folau to the fore.
The Lions must, of course, concentrate on securing good ball in both the tight and loose – no mean task. They must then look to attack the Wallabies with imagination and avoid retreating into their shells to fight a rearguard action, as they seemed to do in the second half of the second test.
All good talk, but mighty hard to do after a bruising tour a long way from home. In the first two tests, the win in the end proved a kick too far for both teams. I hope Saturday’s contest is not a game too far for the 2013 Lions.