What a difference a week makes! The Wallabies had their hopes crushed with a last minute slip on the Lang Park surface. The Lions lost their outstanding lock with Paul O’Connell breaking his arm. Mike Phillips jogged his way out of the 23. Israel Folau increased his earnings potential a billion times with an outstanding debut. James Horwill was charged with stamping, cleared and then recharged when the IRB appealed against its own ruling! Oh, and Australia has a new Prime Minister.
Both Teams have shuffled the deck. Warren Gatland has tweaked a winning side with forced and unforced changes. Alex Corbisiero loses his loosehead spot to Makovina Vunipola after succumbing to a calf strain. As mentioned Paul O’Connell is out of the series and is replaced by Geoff Parling. Parling is no mug but O’Connell’s loss is a huge blow to the visitors while the inclusion of Vunipola will weaken the scrum. Dan Lydiate has replaced Jamie Heaslip at blindside flanker in a move that seems to be aimed at competing at the break down and playing a wider game.
Assuming that Mike Phillips isn’t injured his tepid display has seen him leave the squad completely. Ben Youngs is starting the match with Conor Murray the new reserve half. While they’ll miss the bulk Phillips brought to the game both match day halves bring a lot of pace to the ruck area and should speed up the game considerably. After scoring a sensational try Alex Cuthbert has lost his spot to Tommy Bowe who returns from hand surgery after only 35 days.
The Lions seem weaker in the scrum. Strong in the lineout. A mobile forward pack. More lively in the halves but still powerful in the backline. They seem to be setting up to play a wider game and maybe take advantage of the perceived defensive frailties of the Australians at ruck time.
The good news for the Wallabies is that they’ve named an unchanged forward pack and have even been able to name the same forward reserves. It’s in the backs that the disastrous injury toll from last week’s match clearly shows. Digby Ioane and Pat McCabe are gone for the series. Berrick Barnes has concussion… again! And may or may not be available for the third Test. Kurtley Beale moves into the fullback spot to replace Barnes. After barely playing a match in four months I wonder if Beale has the fitness to last a whole test. He is ably covered by Jesse Mogg on the reserves bench, though. In-form Brumbies winger Joe Tomane replaces Ioane in a like-for-like switch. Tomane has been in great form and shouldn’t feel out of place in this side. Rob Horne has replaced McCabe on the bench. Horne’s Super Rugby form suggests that he probably should have had the spot last week but he’ll get another chance this week to prove he is a test- standard centre.
The Wallabies relied heavily on Will Genia last week. ‘Flyhalf’ James O’Connor spent much of last week watching Genia run the show and I can’t see much changing this week. The inclusion of Beale will allow him to move to the wider channels that he prefers more often and that could work in the Wallabies’ favour.
- Benn Robinson (NSW Waratahs)
- Stephen Moore (Brumbies)
- Ben Alexander (Brumbies)
- Kane Douglas (NSW Waratahs)
- James Horwill (c) (Queensland Reds)
- Ben Mowen ( Brumbies)
- Michael Hooper (NSW Waratahs)
- Wycliff Palu (NSW Waratahs)
- Will Genia (Queensland Reds)
- James O’Connor (Melbourne Rebels)
- Joe Tomane (Brumbies)
- Christian Leali’ifano (Brumbies)
- Adam Ashley-Cooper (NSW Waratahs)
- Israel Folau (NSW Waratahs)
- Kurtley Beale (Melbourne Rebels)
- Saia Fainga’a (Queensland Reds)
- James Slipper (Queensland Reds)
- Sekope Kepu (NSW Waratahs)
- Rob Simmons (Queensland Reds)
- Liam Gill (Queensland Reds)
- Nick Phipps (Melbourne Rebels)
- Rob Horne (NSW Waratahs)
- Jessie Mogg (Brumbies)
BRITISH & IRISH LIONS
- Makovina Vunipola (Saracens / England)
- Tom Youngs (Leicester Tigers – England)
- Adam Jones (Ospreys – Wales)
- Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys – Wales)
- Geoff Parling (Leicester Tigers / England)
- Dan Lydiate (Dragons / Wales)
- Sam Warburton (c) (Cardiff Blues – Wales)
- Jamie Heaslip (Leinster – Ireland)
- Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers / England)
- Jonathan Sexton (Leinster – Ireland)
- George North (Scarlets – Wales)
- Jonathan Davies (Scarlets – Wales)
- Brian O’Driscoll (Leinster – Ireland)
- Tommy Bowe (Ulster / Ireland)
- Leigh Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues – Wales)
- Richard Hibbard (Ospreys – Wales)
- Ryan Grant (Glasgow Warriors / Scotland)
- Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers – England)
- Tom Croft (Leicester Tigers / England)
- Sean O’Brien (Leinster / Ireland)
- Conor Murray (Munster / Ireland)
- Owen Farrell (Saracens – England)
- Alex Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues / Wales)
This match kicks off at Etihad Stadium Melbourne, at 8.00pm.
These teams have met twenty-one times, the Lions winning on sixteen occasions, the Wallabies five.
The game will be telecast live on Network Ten, FOX Sports 2 and FOX Sports 2HD. There is also a live stream for News Limited digital subscribers.
The referee is Craig Joubert.
THE GAME BREAKER
This is a match full of game breakers! Robinson v. Jones, Genia v. Youngs, Ashley-Cooper v. O’Driscoll, North v. Folau, Sexton v. Genia/O’Connor/Beale/Leali’ifano. But frankly the guy with the outstanding ability that I think will break this test open for his side is Leigh Halfpenny! His goal kicking success rate for this tour is around 92 per cent! That’s virtually unheard of and of an enormous benefit for any team he plays for.
THE FEARLESS PREDICTION
Can I change that to fearful prediction? Look I’m biased. I’ll admit it openly. I’m going to back the Wallabies at the end of this paragraph! But I’ve got a bad feeling about the whole thing. By my reckoning we can take them in the forwards but the backs are a different story. We have guys in great form and we have other guys out of position or with little match fitness. Anything could happen.
Wallabies by six.