Welsh whitewash would leave the Lions without a map
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If you are of a charitable disposition, turn those good intentions northwards this weekend and consider the unhappy predicament of the British and Irish Lions hierarchy.
Those nervous souls will be setting their alarm clocks early on Saturday morning with this gloomy possible scenario in front of them – the three sides that will form the bulk of their squad to Australia next year could be dispatched from the southern hemisphere without a single win to their names. A 9-0 thrashing and the derision that would follow was not part of the plan with 12 months to go.
Lions team manager Andy Irvine can at least point to the success of his Scotland (and they will be rightly rewarded when the Lions squad is announced), but he is also likely to be worried about the mental scars inflicted on the Welsh, Irish and English.
The former, in particular, are turning the gallant loss into something of a bad habit. There would be talk of hard lessons learnt, but it would mostly be nonsense. One of those three need to take something tangible from this weekend, or else they will set off on next year’s adventure without a map.
It is easier said than done. Frankly, there will be concern among the Lions strategists at the sheer competency of the Wallabies in the past two Tests, especially after the loss to Scotland.
They already knew from their video analysis that Will Genia could scoot through loose defence around the ruck and Digby Ioane could generate momentum in a phone box (although both were clearly quicker in real life). But it’s not certain they were aware Australia could set up a perfectly executed lineout drive under intense pressure to win the match.
The probably knew that Berrick Barnes was a solid citizen that wouldn’t let the side down, but they probably weren’t suspecting he could ghost through a gap, leave Sam Warburton in his wake and set up his centre for a try. No doubt there were suspicions the Wallabies scrum had improved – but not to the extent of being largely untroubled on its own ball against Adam Jones and Gethin Jenkins.
It plays into a recurring theme of the first two Tests. The Welsh have done nothing – aside from a neat short lineout early on Saturday – that has surprised the Wallabies, while the reverse has been true. One of the most telling parts of the Melbourne Test was the Welsh attempt to hit Warburton at the tail of the lineout – one of their key attacking platforms – only to see Nathan Sharpe waiting for it.
I give the Wallabies due credit for this – if you stick the boot in after the Scotland game balance requires the opposite now.
There is a school of thought that they should have unleashed a greater array of attacking threats on Saturday, given their possession and territory statistics. It is a little on the harsh side.
It was a crucial Test match against the team ranked No.4 in the IRB rankings. These are emotional occasions in which both teams must think their way around obstacles. The Wallabies did it better. They started poorly and kept their composure. They were almost undone by Cooper Vuna’s terrible discipline but steadied.
They were confronted with slower ball and came up with an alternative plan. You do not get things all your way in these charged affairs against proud opponents who also bleed for their cause – ask the All Blacks about that after their Christchurch escape.
Now, it is foot on the throat time for the Wallabies. An afternoon kick-off in Sydney under forecast sunny skies against an opponent with some key players badly out of form is an opportunity too good to miss. Later in Hamilton an All Blacks side, which will have spent much of the week with Steve Hansen’s boot moving towards its collective posterior, will rumble again with the Irish.
In Port Elizabeth, the Springboks resume foaming at the mouth against the shellshocked English, who have now lost their fine captain, Chris Robshaw.
For one hemisphere that 9-0 scoreline would be pitiless, demoralising and entirely possible. These are far from dead rubbers this weekend, as far away as you could get.
Thank goodness for the Scottish.
Paul Cully is a freelance journalist who was born in New Zealand, raised in Northern Ireland, but spent most of his working life in Australia. He is a former Sun-Herald sports editor, rugby tragic, and current Roar and RugbyHeaven contributor.
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