Warren Gatland has made five changes to the Lions starting XV ahead of the second test in Melbourne on Saturday. Two of the changes were forced by injury with Alex Corbisiero and Paul O’Connell replaced by Mako Vunipola and Geoff Parling. The other changes see Dan Lydiate, Ben Youngs and Tommy Bowe coming in for Tom Croft, Mike Phillips and Alex Cuthbert.
The Lions take a 1-0 series lead to the Etihad Stadium after a narrow 23-21 victory in Brisbane, but it could have been very different had Kurtley Beale kept his footing and kicked his penalty in the dying seconds. After the first test the Lions management and players admitted that they were pleased with the win, but acknowledged that they needed to raise their performance levels to seal the a series win.
Looking back at the first test it would be fair to say the Lions lacked a little cohesion in their attacking play. Discounting George North’s superb solo try and the beautifully executed score from Alex Cuthbert, the Lions didn’t look as threatening with ball in hand as we expected.
This was partly due to the Australians strong defence which had clearly done its homework and were prepared for the way the Lions look to attack. On more than one occasion they went through several phases of play without actually going very far. Indeed Australia’s first try came from their ability to soak up several waves of Lions attack, before striking with a lightning fast counter-attack sparked by the genius of Will Genia.
Without the bulldozing Jamie Roberts the Lions struggled to regularly cross the gainline and force the Wallabies onto the back foot. Jonathan Davies was rarely seen carrying the ball through the midfield, which is a key component of any team Warren Gatland sends into a test match. In fact we rarely saw North or Cuthbert coming of the wings like they have been during the warm-up matches.
For the Lions to be successful in the second test they have to find much more attacking fluidity. Davies and North have to get their hands on the ball and use their physicality to cross the advantage line. From there they will be in behind the Australian defence and will find holes much easier to come by.
With 30 minutes of the first test to go, the Lions were eight points ahead and Australia had their openside flanker playing in the centres, it should have been game over. However the Australians found a way back into the game and were one kick away from victory. It seemed as though the Lions almost stopped playing and the dominance they had faded away.
The tactical kicking in that final 30 minutes let the Lions down, there was too much easy ball for Kurtley Beale to counter with. And because they had a lot less ball to play with they were unable to expose Michael Hooper’s presence in the midfield. One more try would have killed the game off and given the Lions a much easier final 10 minutes to negotiate.
If the Lions are ahead going into the final 20 minutes this weekend they have to manage the game better and not allow the Wallabies back into the game, because they may not be so lucky second time around.
Round The Fringes
One of the major changes Warren Gatland has made to the side for the second test is the inclusion of Dan Lydiate ahead of Tom Croft. The Welsh flanker is known for his ferocious tackling around the ruck, it is clear that Gatland has brought him in to sure up this aspect of the game. In the first test Will Genia found far too much space round the breakdown and gave the Lions a lot to think about, Lydiate will be charged with stifling the world’s best number nine.
While Lyidate will no doubt provide much more solidity round the fringes, he doesn’t offer as much around the park as Croft. This is something he will have to bring to this game, he will need to make some big carries and share the workload with Jamie Heaslip.
Another area the Lions really struggled with last weekend was the protection offered to Mike Phillips. The Welsh scrum-half was regularly driven backwards by the impressive Ben Mowen, and Ben Youngs will need much more protection if he is to provide quick ball for Jonny Sexton. If Youngs can get time and space, he can be just as effective as Genia.
Genia has to be knocked out of his rhythm for the Lions to have a shot at glory. He run the show in the first test, and you just can’t afford to let a player of his calibre have time on the ball. This could be the most crucial area of Saturday’s match and it one the Lions have to get right.