British and Irish squad continue to impressively power through their tour.
Australian rugby has been looking for weak spots in the British and Irish Lions armour as the tourists brush aside all comers in the countdown to next weekend’s first Test against the Wallabies.
With Tuesday’s game to come against the ACT Brumbies in Canberra, Warren Gatland’s formidable side have totted up 33 tries and amassed 261 points in their five wins and there have only been a couple of encounters where the Lions have been fully extended on tour.
The Lions are desperate to end their run of outs against the southern hemisphere powerhouses and are bidding for their first series win in 16 years after last prevailing in South Africa.
The finest of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland have a rich history of 125 years Lions touring to uphold and they give every indication of proving a tough nut to crack in the coming series against Robbie Deans’ Wallabies.
The Queensland Reds revealed a couple of chinks with Quade Cooper’s expansive passes opening up gaps out wide, while the below-strength NSW Waratahs contested on equal terms before the Lions power and strength proved insurmountable.
All the while, Deans has had his 31-man Wallaby squad hidden away in camp on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, working on their strategies to repulse the men in red.
So how will the Wallabies tame the Lions?
Rod Macqueen, whose 2001 Wallabies are the only Australian side to have defeated the Lions in a Test series, believes Australia’s well-drilled defence can nullify the tourists’ attack.
“The interesting thing with the Lions is that they do have creative attack,” Macqueen said.
“They have good ideas, they’re running good lines but every now and then it’s breaking down and whether they can get it together and keep it together (against the Wallabies) is going to be a bit of a test. And that may mean they are going to bring their game back for the Tests.
“The Lions are going to be a very formidable side and they’ll be absolutely desperate to win here.
“They’ve lost their past three series (to the Wallabies in 2001, to the All Blacks in 2005 and to the Springboks in 2009) and Gatland will leave absolutely no stone unturned in trying to win this one.”
Ewen McKenzie, whose Reds rattled the Lions and restricted them to just one try in a 22-12 defeat in Brisbane, believes it will all come down to the breakdown to decide supremacy.
“I don’t think the scrum will be an issue, while the lineouts will be interesting. Australia has had the edge on the Welsh lineout if the Lions go with a Welsh pair (of jumpers),” coach McKenzie said. “It’ll be the breakdown that decides it.”
“The question is whether the Lions can slow Australia’s ball down without getting penalised.”
Michael Cheika, who has inside knowledge of Lions Brian O’Driscoll, Rob Kearney, Jamie Heaslip, Cian Healy, Sean O’Brien and Jonny Sexton from his time coaching Irish province Leinster, believes it is a question of winning the ruck and unsettling their playmaking halves.
“I know a lot of those guys and I know what to expect from them,” Cheika said.
“When they are all together, the four nations together, they are hard to stop.
“It’s very clear that the Lions are excellent at the ruck, both sides of the ball. The set pieces (in the Tests) are going to be relatively even and I think that part of the game is probably where it’s going to be decided because that will allow each set of nine and 10 to dictate the play.
“I think the ruck will decide the flow of the game.”
Cheika said one of his former Leinster proteges and likely Lions Test fly-half Sexton “gave him a dirty look” after the tourists beat Waratahs 47-17 on Saturday.
“He’s so quality. He was hurting after our big unit (Will Skelton) gave him a good hit. It wasn’t on my instructions at all,” he said.
“In these games you’ve got to pressure and put the heat on the number nine (scrum-half) and 10 (fly-half) at this level because they’re orchestrating the way the Lions play.
“You have to keep them hopping so you can give yourself some chance of shutting down their attack.”