The Crows circle the ANZ Stadium Sydney ahead of Saturday and what will be the defining Match of this Lions Tour. With the Team selection announced the Internet is already swarmed with Memes and reaction Videos. For many the One Man Match Winner, the Man every Team fears to face, known as BOD was the man to lead the Tourist Troops to Victory. It’s fair to say that the Davies-O’Driscoll partnership has not been working too well and that the Davies Roberts combo is tried and tested. It’s also fair to point out that Roberts and O’Driscoll also have a keen understanding of each other’s movements and techniques, a partnership that has worked well in the past, both offensively and defensively. In defence O’Driscoll more than makes up for the lack of effort from Davies in defence, but could do nothing to stop Adam Ashley Coopers match winning try, which Davies was caught out badly for.
So should O’Driscoll be forced bear the brunt of the Teams criticism? Or is there some other reason for Gatland’s strange choice? This isn’t the only selection/omission I take issue with. Parling is a great impact player and works hard in the loose, but at scrum time he adds very little push or weight to the front, something that was very evident last week. While many may blame Vunipola for the lost scrums, you have to analyse what behind the man too. I would have Richie Gray in ahead of Parling to partner Test Captain Alun-Wyn Jones. The addition of Cosbisiero should solidify the front row but the relegation of Tom Youngs to the bench will no doubt lead to a less effective Line Out in my opinion.
The exclusion of Heaslip is also a choice I cannot yet comprehend; the man is so potent in attack and makes as many yards as the centres. Is he injured? What can Faletau offer? He gets very little weight behind the scrum, runs poorly compared to Heaslip and is nowhere near as effective on the ground in defence.
The balance of the back row is another area of concern, While O’Brien covers 7 well, he is a far more effective 6. Tipuric is probably the best 7 on Tour but is on the bench. Lydiate is a work horse but adds very little to the attack dynamic. No place for Croft would suggest Gatland is not bothered with an effective Line Out at all.
Overall it has the feel of a Coach who has very little faith in his Team, someone taking a safe option to sustain as little damage as possible. The Lions are set up in such a direct manner that we shall see very little flair on the pitch Saturday. It’s worth noting that this Welsh style of attack has had practically no success against the Australians for Gatland. As my friend and Rugby Knowitall, Fearghal O’Connor said “When was the last time Wales beat Australia? I suppose Gatland thinks if you throw enough shit at the wall eventually some will stick “. As harsh as the criticism may seem I can’t help but agree.
This final match will be the last opportunity for a Lions Series Win for many of these players, O’Driscoll among them. As Gatland stated himself, O’Driscoll is the greatest player the Northern Hemisphere has ever produced. So what, he’s just not good enough to play against Australia in the ultimate decider? Well find out whether Gatland has lost the plot on Saturday but the signs are ominous and if the Tour goes the Wallabies way, Warren Gatland may find it hard to face a return to the Northern Hemisphere, never mind trying to justify his decisions. Then again this could all be a clever ruse….