Deans’ Wallaby punt faces big first hurdle
Expect the unexpected, that’s the Wallabies’ mindset heading into the world’s biggest rugby union match since the 2011 World Cup.
But it’s the quarantined Australians who must surprise against the British and Irish Lions on Saturday night as the latest chapter in their 125-year history starts at a sold-out Suncorp Stadium.
The Lions are warm favourites for some very good reasons, particularly Australia’s recent history of embarrassing starts to a Test season and lack of a warm-up match.
In contrast, the best of Wales, England, Ireland and Scotland have at least two hit-outs under their belts and are ready to roll.
How the home side measure up – with a new playmaker in James O’Connor and three debutants in Israel Folau, lineout caller Ben Mowen and key centre Christian Lealiifano – is unknown.
Australia were dreadful in their opening encounters of 2010 and 2011 – upset by Samoa and Scotland – and another rusty effort will be punished severely by the well-grooved Lions.
With his Wallabies coaching career on the line, Robbie Deans has taken the punt on quarantining his players in a three-week camp to refresh them from the rigours of Super Rugby and finetune a more attacking game style in training.
Vice-captain Will Genia felt the extra preparation time had worked to ensure the home side were primed for a rollicking start.
But after scoring just 15 tries in 15 Tests last year, Australia’s attacking general said they would break the shackles to beat a Lions side that’s playing with tempo and aiming to score 23-plus points for victories.
“We want to look to play footy, we want to look to spread the ball and to express ourselves – we have to score points to win,” Genia said.
“The Lions have spoken all tour about wanting to come here and play some rugby and score points and know they have to score tries to win.
“That’s the game I think that we can expect to see tomorrow. And then you have Leigh Halfpenny who can kick (penalty goals) from anywhere as well.”
Halfpenny, who makes English radar-boot Jonny Wilkinson look erratic, looms as a major factor after slotting 22 of his 23 attempts at goal on tour.
After four straight tour wins, before Tuesday night’s upset loss to the Brumbies by their dirt-trackers, Lions assistant coach Andy Farrell warned they hadn’t played all their cards.
Skipper James Horwill said the Wallabies were already braced for new tactics.
“They have things up their sleeve,” Horwill said. “They’ve been holding some stuff back so we have to expect the unexpected.”
It’s been 12 years since debutant Justin Harrison boldly stole that late lineout near the Wallabies line for a breakthrough series triumph with a thrilling 29-23 win in Sydney, and both sides expect another tight nip-and-tuck battle.
There were late injury queries in both camps with Wallabies No.8 Wycliff Palu (knee) and Lions duo Tom Croft (toe) and Jonathan Davies (stiffness) all missing training on Friday but officials insisted they were rested as a precaution.
The Wallabies hold an exceptional record at their favourite ground, winning 17 of 21 matches at Suncorp Stadium and only being denied by the All Blacks, but they have never beaten the Lions in Brisbane.
Friday rain, which is expected to clear by kickoff, has also brought concerns and at the very least delivered a surface more to the liking of the tourists.© AAP 2014