Well, the Lions continued their winning ways with a victory over Western Force, beating the ‘Force’ 69-17. It was the Lions first game of the tour in Australia, following on from the win against the Barbarians, in Hong Kong.
The Lions win was diminished due to the fact that Western Force put out a second string side for the game. The Force have a Super Rugby game against the New South Wales Waratahs on Saturday and so they didn’t field their best players for the game.
The decision not to have their best players line out against the Lions has been condemned by a number of pundits, with Lions legend Ian McGeechan saying it was a mark of disrespect to the Lions.
It was unfortunate that Western Force didn’t field their strongest team, especially as they have no chance of doing well in the Super Rugby tournament (they’re ranked 13th, out of 15!). They may be contractually obligated to Super Rugby but it was a shame.
It takes away from the very mystique of the Lions not to have the strongest opposition fielded against them. It was already a shame when internationals stopped playing for their clubs/provinces against the Lions. Now the teams are fielding even weaker sides.
There’s been talk that if this continues, the Lions tours may be even more condensed, with only the 3 tests, and 1 or 2 other games. This would be a pity, as one of the main attractions of the Lions is to see them face the provincial/club sides.
Still, it was great to see the Lions continue their winning streak, though Western Force were much more competitive than the score-line suggests. The Lions scored 9 tries, with Leigh Halfpenny converting all. He also kicked 2 penalties. In an amazing display.
Other stand-out performers included Heaslip and O’Brien in the back row, making storming runs. Jonny Sexton had a great game, including scoring a wonderful try. Heaslip also scored a try. Tommy Bowe was another try scorer, capping off a strong display.
Brian O’Driscoll had a strong game, scoring a brace (2) of tries in the bargain. Tom Croft, Mako Vunipola, Geoff Parling and Owen Farrell also touched down. Tommy Bowe was another try scorer, capping off a strong display.
There were some bad points as well, though. Manu Tuilagi had a quiet game, ditto George North, with none of the trademark storming runs these 2 are famous for. Best’s throwing in the line-out was wayward, and the pack struggled in the set pieces.
The most worrying part of the game though, was when Cian Healy was forced to leave the field after damaging his ankle. To add to the woe, Healy has also been cited for allegedly biting one of the Force players. His hearing will take place this Friday.
England prop, Alex Corbisero, has been called up as cover for Healy. Whatever happens, Healy will be missing a few of the games. This is terrible for him as he was one of the favourites to play prop in the test team.
Some good news on the injury front is that Sam Warburton will make his Lions debut against Queensland Reds, on Saturday. Warburton missed the first 2 Lions games after damaging his knee in training.
There’s a lot of pressure on Warburton now, having missed the first 2 games. He has a very diffult task ahead of him, with him needing to put in an impressive performance, to silence doubters, and to hold his hand up for test selection. The back row has indeed become the most competitive position.
Gethin Jenkins is another player making his debut, after he too was injured (leaving Rob Kearney as the Lions squad member yet to line-out so far this tour). Tom and Ben Youngs both make their first starts of the tour.
The Youngs’ become the first brothers to play for the Lions since Gavin and Scott Hastings lined out together in New Zealand, in 1993. Rory and Tony Underwood were also on that tour, but they never played together.
The Lions team seems like mainly second string side, with 1 or 2 exceptions. Tuilagi will want to really stand out, for a chance to play in the tests. Bowe and Cuthbert can almost cement their test places with good performances.
Lions: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Jonathan Davies, 11 Tommy Bowe, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Toby Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (capt), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Matt Stevens, 2 Tom Youngs, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Replacements: 16 Richard Hibbard, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Alun-Wyn Jones, 19 Paul O’Connell, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Conor Murray, 22 Jonathan Sexton, 23 George North.
Thankfully, Queensland have fielded a strong side for the match, though they’re without their internationals. Their main threat will be Quade Cooper, at out-half.
Cooper was unlucky to miss out been picked out for the Australian squad, and is an exciting player. He’s been troubled with controversy, though (sort of like Australia’s answer to Gavin Henson or Danny Cipriani though he’s more talented).
It should be an exciting game, with Queensland likely to offer much tougher opposition than Western Force, or the Barbarians. With the test matches getting closer, each performance is crucial.
On a Lions note, it seems unlikely that Jonny Wilkinson will join up with the Lions squad, after undergoing surgery. This is a shame as it would have capped off a great year for him, his best since 2003.
The Lions still need to bring out a replacement out-half, though. Both Sexton and Farrell have already played every game so far, and look likely to play every game in all. There needs to be cover or the 2 will be fatigued before the test series even starts.