The Lions Midfield Combination
This is not a direct criticism of Brian O’Driscoll or his midfield compatriot Jonathan Davies, both are outstanding players in their own right as they have proved on numerous occasions. The issue however is that they do not function effectively as a midfield combination as neither of them has sufficient experience of playing inside centre at this level.
Whilst to the casual observer there may be very little difference between inside and outside centre, when playing at such a high level as the Lions are currently playing at, the subtle differences between 12 & 13 are telling, and when a player is played out of position it really does show.
Davies has showed in a number of games in this series what an impressive force he is in both defence and attack, but we have only really seen the best of him when playing outside an experienced 12 like Roberts. Unfortunately in the tests at 12 he has failed to stamp his authority on the game and show his true ability.
Unfortunately this has the knock on effect of meaning BOD doesn’t see as much of the ball as he would normally expect and as such despite his impressive work in defence and at the breakdown, he has thus far failed to impose himself on either test. This has unfortunately seen the Lions midfield failing to fire on all cylinders in either test to date.
Hopefully we should see the return of Jamie Roberts for the third and final test which should allow eiher Davies or O’Driscoll to play to their full potential in the final match. A more balanced midfield should also see the ball reach the likes of North and Bowe more who will in turn have more chance to attack the Wallaby backline.
James O’Connor is Not a Test 10
Again this is not a direct criticism of the player himself as any player who has been capped 37 times at the age of 22 by his country is clearly a special talent. O’Connor is obviously a gifted footballer and has shown flashes of his brilliance in the two tests but has looked lost in the 10 jersey so far.
On a number of occasions O’Connor has run down blind alleys or got drawn into rucks instead of standing off and performing the playmakers role. Whilst O’Connor has always openly admitted to desiring the number 10 shirt, the decision of Deans to play him in such a pivotal role during the tests when he has had so little experience for me has been a big mistake.
As ever the issue of Quade Cooper will continue to be batted around, and despite the obvious concerns over his consistency and defensive ability his performance for the Reds demonstrated exactly why he should have been the Wallabies fly half in both tests.
To date the dangerous Australian backline has failed to properly ignite on more than a handful of occasions and the main reason for this remains the lack of wide ball reaching them. A playmaker of Cooper’s ability would have ensured they saw more ball and thusly became more of an attacking threat.
Will Genia is World Class
Despite having a slightly quieter second test with a couple of un-characteristic mistakes, Will Genia once again proved what a class act he is. Mixing up the Wallabies point of attack between forwards and backs to keep the Lions guessing, Genia ensured the ball was kept moving and ensured the Lions were pinned back in their own 22 for long periods of the game.
In the first test he was even more impressive with his quick taps, darting runs and masterful kicks helping to ensure the Wallabies were always within touching distance of the Lions even though they had to re-shuffle the team after an incredibly unfortunate string of injuries.
Genia will once again be one of the key men in the third and final test next Saturday, and should he play like he did in the first test and the Wallabies avoid too many serious injuries he could well be the man to determine the outcome of the series.
Israel Folau is Something Special
Two tries on his test debut, against the Lions no less will live long in the memory, especially as neither were a walk in the park. Despite initial concerns about whether Folau was capable of playing at the top level of rugby union, he has proved every critic wrong to date.
He has been a constant source of worry for the Lions every time he has touched the ball and has made ground on almost every occasion. His Aussie rules background has been put to good use as he has out-jumped Lions giant George North on several occasions and his running with ball in hand is second to none.
The only concern that may remain is over his defensive ability as he has yet to be truly tested in the series so far when going backwards, but should his fantastic attacking form continue he could well be the man to decide the series.
The Lions Really Haven’t Performed That Well
Despite winning the first test and only narrowly losing out in the second game, the Lions are yet to properly click as a unit. Whilst they have looked solid, particularly in defence they still seem to look like a team of strangers and this has showed when going forwards as they have struggled to build a consistant platform which the backs can play off.
Whilst everyone will remember the slip by Kurtley Beale at the death that cost the Wallabies victory, it is important not to forget that both Beale and O’Connor squandered 14 potential points from the boot during the test. Add to this the horrendous injury crisis that saw openside flanker Michael Hooper moved to inside centre for most of the second half and you realise just how lucky the Lions were to escape with victory.
George North is the Current Star for the Lions
Despite looking more like a backrow forward, North has shown exactly why he is a Lion at the age of just 21, scoring a magnificent try in the first test and looking dangerous throughout the series. His battle with Folau down the wing could well be the deciding factor in the series.
He has showed his contrasting talents in both tests, guilde, speed and fantastic footwork in the first test to score a try that will go down as one of the greats for the Lions and strength and power has he literally picked up Israel Folau who is no light weight himself and carried him back several feet as the Wallaby attempted to tackle him.
Warburton Was the Right Choice as Captain
Despite a number of criticisms over his choice as captain and even his place in the test team, Warburton has proved he truly is a class act and gone about his business quietly but effectively winning a number of key turnovers and making important tackles.
His most important work however has been with the referees where he has remained calm and composed whilst politely helping point the officials in the right direction. This last point cannot be over estimated as the ability t influence the referee in the right way in a big test environment can often be paramount to a teams success.
Whilst Tipuric may play a more flashy brand of rugby at openside, or O’Driscoll may be a more vocal leader on the pitch, Warburton has once again proved that he truly his an outstanding player and captain and is well worth his place in the starting line-up.
Leigh Halfpenny Isn’t Human
Lions fullback Leigh Halfpenny’s kicking percentage of over 90% on the tour is the reason the Lions still remain in contention for the series. Despite narrowly missing the final kick in the second test that could have sealed a Lions victory, it had been his work from the kicking tee prior to the final penalty that ensured his team were still in contention so late in the game.
And equally as much as Beale and O’Connor’s kicking in the first test lost the game for the Wallabies, it was Halfpenny’s kicking that won it for the Lions. He seems capable of knocking the ball over from all angles giving his team confidence to go out and win penalties and putting doubt in the minds of the opposition when conceding them.
It is important to remember his input in other areas at the game as he remains a rock defensively and provides an attacking threat ball in hand, however it will be his prowess with the boot on Saturday that will be key to a Lions series victory.