Posts Tagged ‘ Robbie Deans ’

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.

Ruthless Gatland Aims To Wrap Up The Series


The sporting capital of Australia this weekend see the second test of the Lions tour of Australia this year with the tourists looking to secure the series after limping over the line last weekend in Brisbane to take the first test. Memory cannot help thinking back 12 years ago to 2001 when the Lions found themselves in the same position entering the second test in Melbourne but two quick Joe Roff try’s in that game swung the series which the Wallabies went on to win 2-1. Continue reading

Lions Hoping For A Real Test Against The Reds


Having thumped the Barbarians in Hong Kong then routed the Western Force in Perth, the Lions are now in Brisbane to take on the Queensland Reds.

The Reds have encouragingly picked as strong as team as possible minus their seven Australian squad members Genia, Slipper, Horwill, Ioane, Gill, Simmons and Saia Faingaa. The Reds squad still has plenty of quality and brawn and will

Continue reading

Autumn Internationals Round-up

Scotland 22 –v-  New Zealand  51

Dan Carter guided World Champions New Zealand to victory against Scotland in front of a full house in Murrayfield.  Carter is peerless in world rugby and today he showed all his skills as he orchestrated three of the All Blacks’ tries and amassed 21 points with his boot.  Before kick-off, a fiery Scottish side marched forward to meet the haka, signalling their intent.  Throughout the match the Scots endeavour could not be faulted but the gulf in class was always evident as New Zealand never looked troubled.

It only took two minutes for the All Blacks to register points in this game courtesy of Carter’s boot.  Then Scotland struck.  In what was his only mistake of the game, Carter threw a pass that was picked off by Scottish centre Matt Scott.  He galloped free but had the presence of mind to pop a pass to his flying winger Tim Visser on his left shoulder who outpaced Corey Jane for the first try of the game.  It was converted and Scotland had the lead 7-3.  An aberration?  Indeed.  Minutes later Carter was making amends; with two breaks in quick succession he tore the Scottish defence asunder.  Each time he realised he was up against a forward – a mismatch – and stepped inside.  On the second occasion he fed Israel Dagg who crossed for the try. Carter converted, and normality was resumed 7-10.

In a ten minute spell from the 30 minute mark, scoring three tries in quick succession, the New Zealanders showed why they are the best team in world rugby at present.  Led by their captain Richie McCaw’s example they got their hands on the ball, rucked mercilessly, passed deftly and ran at space; no other team combines all these skills as they do.  The second try summed it up.  It was quick hands all the way across the field but each man, no matter what number was on his back, especially Adam Thompson, displayed the hands of a first class centre.  It is the simple skills but they have mastered them and they do it at such pace.  Scotland could not live with them as Piri Weepu displayed the same deft handling down a narrow channel before Andrew Hore crossed for the try.  With three hammer blows this game was effectively won and with panache.  It threatened to get ugly with the All Blacks scoring at will but Scotland fronted up again and they were rewarded deep into first half injury time with a score of their own.  After a number of quick tap penalties, Geoff Cross slipped under Richie McCaw’s tackle for the try that did not need the TMO.  Scotland went in 17 – 34 down.

In the second half the All Blacks were down to 14 men when Adam Thompson stamped a Scottish player in the head while he was lying prostrate in a ruck.  He will be cited for the offence and could miss the remainder of the tour.  Scotland took advantage of the numbers as Visser went over for another try.  Warren Gatland got proof today that Visser is a test level winger.  Visser and Richie Gray could be the only Scottish players on the starting Lions team when Gatland’s men tour Down Under at the end of the season.  New Zealand received a penalty shortly after this try and they elected to kick for goal this was a measure of the resilient Scottish performance.  Two further All Black tries inevitably came to put a gloss on the scoreboard but Scotland will take pride in their resolve and the fact that they scored three tries and 22 points – more than any other team has put on the board against New Zealand in the last two years; moral victories are made of such.

These Autumn Internationals will showcase the All Blacks in the first stage of transition towards the 2015 World Cup in England.  Their squad is a mix of fresh caps, new combinations, experience and excellence.  Hanson and his coaching team know that in three year’s time they will come to the Northern hemisphere to defend their World Cup.  The All Blacks’ conveyor belt looks as healthy as ever and the transition appears seamless – it doesn’t bode well for the rest of us.  Next year, Captain McCaw will take a six month sabbatical from the game which will see him miss the whole Super Rugby campaign.  This is in order to increase his longevity in an attempt to have him play until 2015.  It’s a long shot but Hanson is willing to do whatever he can to keep his inspirational leader, together with his playmaker Dan Carter, on the international paddock for as long as possible.

France 33 –v- Australia 6


France were the only Six Nations team to beat their Rugby Championship opponents this weekend and they did so convincingly.  Warren Gatland will bemoan the fact that he can’t select any of the Gallic men for his touring squad at the end of the season but he will draw comfort from the weak state of Australian rugby.

The Wallabies have to select from a smaller pool of players than their fanatical neighbours New Zealand as a result of the sport being the fourth most popular code in the country.  Yet in the face of this they have always managed to produce attacking players of the highest calibre but with an injury list including most of their marquee names their strength in depth will be tested on this tour.  The Wallabies have failed to cross the whitewash in their last two tests.  This doesn’t signal a crisis for coach Robbie Deans but he will know that England will be targeting next weekend as a chance to put one over on the Wallabies.

French intensity at the breakdown and scrum-time blew away a callow Australian team.  The men in blue were led by Freddie Michalak – plying his trade in Super Rugby with the Sharks franchise – he kicked two penalties, three conversions and a drop goal for a total of 15 points from his boot.  The mercurial fly-half has been out of favour with the national team. This was only his third test in so many years but with current form he looks ready to guide this team.  The French at home are hard to live with but the Wallabies will need to re-group and fast or this will be a long Autumn tour.  They will be boosted by the return from injury of their captain David Pocock and winger Digby Ioane.

Wales 12 –v- Argentina 26


Argentina have emerged battle hardened from their first year in the inaugural Rugby Championship competition and this showed in their defeat of Wales in the Millenium Stadium.

It was a gruelling encounter as is always the way when the Argies are involved.  The game saw the re-introduction of Felipe Contepomi to the test arena but this was short lived as he came off injured only fifteen minutes in after tackling George North.   Welsh centre Jamie Roberts, who has become the latest Wales international to announce that he will leave the Cardiff Blues for the lucrative French Top 14, also came off injured after 25 minutes because of a head clash.  He was replaced by James Hook who is already playing his club rugby in France.

All the Welsh points in this game came from the boot of Leigh Halfpenny.  Argentina were 9 – 6 down at half time but they came out in the second half and scored two tries to take victory.  Argentina more than matched Wales throughout the game and their reward came on 55 minutes when Juan Imhoff beat Leigh Halfpenny to score the first try.  Gonzalo Camacho also scored in the corner.  Both these tries were converted by out-half Nicholas Sanchez who also added a penalty that gave them the deserved win.

The Welsh team were bereft of attacking ideas during the game and the home fans showed their dismay at the final whistle by booing the team.  Rob Howley, who is interim coach with Warren Gatland on Lions duty, has now presided over four defeats in five games in charge.  Perhaps the Welsh team’s gruelling Polish training camp has them a little flat on the field or maybe the mass exodus of players is having an effect on the international side.

In the other games on the weekend England hammered a weak Fijian side – England 54 –v- Fiji 12  and Italy narrowly defeated Tonga –  Italy 28 –v- Tonga 23.