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Posts Tagged ‘ James Horwill ’

Going to the Wire – Gatland Rolls The Dice

File:Warren Gatland Wales coach at the Wales Grand Slam Celebration, Senedd 19 March 2012.png

The gambler has played his riskiest card yet.

And so onto Sydney after the disappointment of Melbourne last week – the Lions get one more chance to claim their first series since 1997 in Sydney’s ANZ stadium this coming Saturday. The third Test, the Decider.

First things first and team selections, which have dominated not only the headlines but also social media the past 24 hours or more. Warren Gatland has picked a 23-man squad without talisman and everyone’s captain Brian O’Driscoll. Also dropped out of the 23 are an in-form Jamie Heaslip and Ben Youngs, with the return to scrumhalf for Mike Phillips.

Warren Gatland has set out his stall for the game and decided there is only one way to beat Australia and that is to play ‘bash it up’ rugby. We should not really be surprised, as this is the way Wales play. It’s the way the Lions have set up all tour and the way Wales have played over the years. I can see where Gatland is coming from, with Davies partnering Roberts; they have played together for years and know each others every move, but not having O’Driscoll on the bench is just ludicrous, with Manu Tualagi a similar battering ram type player occupying the spot. This could be a clear indication that Roberts is not 100 per cent also. How Robbie Deans and Australia will be loving this. As a player I could not imagine a better boost of energy and drive than seeing O’Driscoll coming on to offer something different – not least his experience and captain’s expertise – with 20 minutes to go.

I believe the biggest mistake Gatland has made was made before a player was even selected to go on tour, the non-selection of Joe Schmidt as attack coach. If Schmidt had been on tour we wouldn’t be discussing such matters and possible have the series wrapped. But that is all ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ so onto the job at hand and the chance we have of turning over an increasing in confidence Wallabies side.

The key man again is the focal point and Mike Phillips needs to find his best form once more and have Will Genia on the back-foot. Sexton will be hoping for more ball in hand and the opportunity to direct the Lions going forward. Alongside all the forwards Phillips is key to this. For the impact game Gatland is indicating with his selection that good lineout ball to the back of the line is vital. Croft would be handy here but in his absence Parling will shoulder most of the responsibility to get the ball down to Phillips and onto Roberts and co to get over the gain line. With that and quick recycling of the ball we may then see the best of North and Bowe (which unfortunately we didn’t last week) and with it a serious threat on the Wallabies whitewash. Because the ball has not been good, the Lions have only attacked route one and that is really easy to defend. They play against big boys from New Zealand and South Africa on a weekly basis in the Super Rugby competition, so a Jamie Roberts and a Jonathan Davies is nothing new to them. The Lions are not going to win this game off the boot of Halfpenny, which they nearly undeservedly did last week.

The front row of Corbiseiro, Hibbard and Jones will make us a threat in the scrum but we need to show more in open play and match the Aussies in the breakdown.

The Australian side shows one change and it’s the inclusion of 110-cap veteran George Smith at flanker. Where we have dropped our 100+ cap experience for a vital test game Australia have included theirs. Smith has had an outstanding season and will battle will Sean O Brien all day to get hand on ball. Along with the clearing of captain James Horwill the Australia camp could not be in better mood with the missed Beale kicks now a distant memory. They are in a buoyant mood and the word from their people is that this series is in no doubt a repeat of the 2001 collapse with a victory for Australia. That’s just typical Aussie sporting arrogance as there is still 80 minutes to play but it is hard not to agree with their optimism, if a little cocky. The Lions are now under-dogs and must use and feed off this and bring an intensity to Sydney that they have not reached yet. Australia have war-horse Smith back at 7, captain Horwill cleared of any wrong-doing, bad-boy Beale back playing with a smile on his face, flying wingers who just want ball to run and a scrum-half that’s perhaps the best player in the world at present. The Lions have Warburton, O Connell, & O Driscoll all pre-tour captain picks, watching suited in the stand alongside nominee for rugby player of the year Jamie Heaslip. Jamie Roberts is just back from a hamstring tear and we have a captain who is third choice leader for his country. This increases my nerves and where I predicated a victory in the first Test and hoped for victory in the second, again it is a hope for victory in the last Test with the game hopefully turning into an arm-wrestle.

With Lydiate, O Brien and Faletau we have our most physical back-row. Up front we have our heaviest forwards and with Phillips and Roberts we have two big physical backs with ability to get over the gain line. We have a faultless ball-kicker solid at fullback and have two world-class wingers that would make any team. These are our positives, which the Lions must focus on and focus on nothing but a win on Saturday. For Gatland it’s the defining day in his management although win or lose people will always disagree with the O’Driscoll decision, but that is sport. Let’s hope Sydney is a sea of red come Saturday night and we are celebrating a historic series.

On a final note regarding O’Driscoll, after the disappointment of his non-selection yesterday he stayed behind late after the last two training sessions, and went through videos with Jamie Roberts giving him bits of advice. From there hew went to coach kids in a rugby camp nearby where they are training in Noosa. This shows the measure of the man he is. Class is permanent.

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O’Driscoll Dropped as Gatland Reverts to Welsh for Decider

Brian O’Driscoll’s anguish after the final whistle in Saturday’s 16-15 defeat in the 2nd Test in Melbourne has been further compounded as he is dropped for the deciding test in Sydney on Saturday. Gatland’s decision to omit O’Driscoll from the 23 man squad for the final Test was announced in the Irish am and this country awoke to the news that their heroes’ Lions career has ended ignominiously. Sport is rarely sentimental; Gatland never is as he drops O’Driscoll for the first time in his career.

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The Lions Have Landed: Can The Aussies Hear The Roar?

li17 days out from the 1st test in Brisbane we take at look at how the Wallabies are looking and the general feeling towards the tour down under. I spent over two years living in the sport-obsessed country and to say they don’t like to lose would be an understatement. AFL is the number one sport in Australia with cricket coming second, rugby league third and rugby union fourth. Don’t get me wrong even with its lower standing it is funded equally and followed religiously in certain corners of Queensland and New South Wales. Both these states are gripped by the yearly state of origin series, a best of 3 combat between the best Rugby League players representing their birth state. Continue reading

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