LIONS WIN 1ST TEST BUT LOSE O’CONNELL

Well, the bad news is that Paul O’Connell has been ruled out of the rest of the test series after suffering a forearm injury. It’s a big loss for the Lions as O’Connell is a talismanic figure. His absence will affect the Lions chances of winning the series.

 

The Lions have being beset by injuries all tour. There are also concerns about prop Alex Coribisiero, so Ireland’s Tom Court has been called out as cover. Thankfully, Tommy Bowe has been declared fit.

 

With O’Connell injured, Geoff Parling will take his place in the test side. Parling was due to captain the Lions against the Melbourne Rebels so Ian Evans takes his place on the team and Dan Lydiate takes over as captain for the game.

 

The Lions still come away with a victory though it wasn’t the dominant performance of 12 years ago. The Lions have beaten Australia in the first test of the 2013 series, winning a very close/unusual game, 23-21.

 

It has to be said that the Lions were very lucky to win the game after Australia were besieged by injuries, having 3 players carried off during the match. The Wallabies also missed several shots at goal, which would have won them the game.

 

Australia had a nightmare start, missing 2 penalty chances and having one player stretcher-ed off within the first 10 minutes. They bounced back with a wonderful try, though, set up by Will Genia and finished in style by Israel Folau.

 

The 2 players caused problems for the Lions for the whole game and were the stars for Australia. Folau was playing in his first test, after having starred in both Australian Rules Football and Rugby League.

 

Folau showed that he’s equally talented at rugby union and scored another great try soon after his first effort. Genia is considered the best scrum-half in the world and one of the best players around, period.

 

The Lions showed that they had their own stars, though. George North put in his own class effort while his fellow wing Alex Cuthbert got through the Australian defence to score his own try. Cuthbert resembled Jonah Lomu in his pomp.

 

Leigh Halfpenny put in another super kicking display with 6 from 7 successful kicks (Halfpenny has succeeded with 28 of his 30 shots so far at goal. An amazing record!). Unfortunately for Australia they had no-one to match Halfpenny’s brilliance at kicking.  

 

Australian out-half James O’Connor missed 2 penalties at the start of the game, while Kurtley Beale missed 2 at the end. Beale failed to complete his final kick after embarrassingly slipping on the wet surface!

 

Beale has had a rough year, having to postpone his playing career due to personal problems (mainly alcohol related). It could have been the ultimate redemption but unfortunately it wasn’t to be. Nice to see him back, though. He’s a great talent.

 

The Lions pack put in a strong performance, dominating at the scrums and line-outs.  They had their problems in other areas, though, mainly the breakdowns (rucks/mauls) and were constantly penalised at this area.

 

Southern Hemisphere referees have different interpretations of the breakdown area (to Northern Hemisphere refs) and the Lions failure to address this cost them in the match, conceding 12 penalties in all.

 

This has always being a problem for Lions teams, the different interpretations of the laws and it’s something that should be addressed. The Lions coach Gatland complained about this problem but he should be aware of these differences as he’s from the Southern Hemisphere!  

 

The Lions will need to improve as Australia will certainly be better in the 2nd test and they won’t be caught out twice in a row. South Africa lost the test series in 1997 ‘cause they didn’t’ have a good goal-kicker. Australia won’t make the same mistake.

 

There wasn’t a lot of cohesion amongst the Lions backs, though they put in 1 or 2 nice moves the 2 tries that were scored were mainly due to individual brilliance. They’ll need to be play more as a team for the next games.

 

I would keep the same team overall, though Jonathan Davies at centre and Phillips both had quiet games. Phillips especially was out-classed at scrum-half and need to bring his game back to the level he’s capable of.

 

Although Tommy Bowe has been declared fit, both Cuthbert and North played so well it would be difficult to replace them. Bowe might be better at nullifying the threat of Folau, though.

 

Heaslip and O’Connell were stand-outs in pack. Young’s throwing was very good in the line-out (the line-out has being a sore point all tour). Warburton was good but will need to step up for the series.

 

The Lions have a final provincial game before the 2nd test. They play the Melbourne Rebels on Tuesday (10.30). The Rebels are the weakest provincial side in Australia (being ranked 13/15 in the Super Rugby table).

 

The Lions have picked a strong team for the game at will want to atone for last week’s loss against the Brumbies. The team is captained by English lock, Geoff Parling and sees a return to the side for Manu Tuilagi who’s recovered from injury.

 

 British and Irish Lions: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Conor Murray,

8 Toby Faletau, 7 Sean O’Brien, 6 Dan Lydiate (c), 5 Ian Evans, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Ryan Grant.

Replacements: 16 Rory Best, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Matt Stevens, 19 Tom Croft, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Ben Youngs, 22 Billy Twelvetrees, 23 Stuart Hogg.

Rob Kearney is at full-back, with Simon Zebo on the wing and Sean O’Brien at flanker. If O’Brien puts in a strong performance he has a chance of being picked on the bench for the 2nd test. IMO (in my opinion) he has more to offer than Faletau.

 

Tuilagi makes his second appearance of the tour, after recovering from injury. If he puts in a strong performance he could replace Davies in the 2nd test. I would have put Hogg at out-half instead of Owen Farrell.

 

Farrell should play some part in the tests so he’ll need to be fit. I doubt he will play the full match. Gatland needs to be a bit more adventurous in his thinking, the Lions need a bit of imagination. They’re playing quite conservatively at the moment.  

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