On the morning of the third and deciding test in Sydney, as two tribes go to war, we look at ten match ups that could prove to be the difference between the success and failure.
Corbisiero v Alexander
Things went awry for the Lions scrum in the second test. Mako Vunipola’s giant frame didn’t cope well with Alexander and the Aussie’s ran riot. Now Corbisiero steps back into the fray and the Englishman from New York is a different beast altogether for Alexander to deal with. This is the one place that Gatland has moved away from bulk.
Hibbard v Moore
Moore’s performance last week was excellent. He carried well and worked hard in defence. He boasts an excellent tackle rate for a front row player, an embodiment of movement toward hookers acting as flankers in the loose. Moore’s lineout throwing is far from perfect and Parling may target a few timely steals. Hibbard’s lineout throws have been dreadful this tour, but he will know he is capable of better. Hibbard is an equally hard worker in open play and a bone crunching tackler. Without doubt, the most important job will be setting the platform from which to play and the role these two will play will be huge.
AW Jones v Horwill
As if this fixture didn’t have enough spice already, captain on captain stuff in the boiler house. The 2001 tour was eventual won at the lineout with a steal from skipper Martin Johnson, Jones will do all he can to ensure history does not repeat itself. Off the field he alleged stamp in the first test has finally run its course of the field but there may still be some bad feeling harboured on it. Both players will want to keep their cool in what will already be a bubbling cauldron in Sydney. One slip could be enough to gift the series to the opposition.
O'Brien v Smith
When has a comeback been this exciting? Lazarus, Jesus, George Smith. After four years the flanker pulls on the gold and green of Wallabies again. Michael Hooper will have right to be aggrieved and impressing in the second test, but nobody can argue with Smith’s talent. The Lions will wish Sam Warburton was fit (despite what Stuart Barnes says), but they have a more than able replacement in Sean O’Brien. A big, bullocking runner built like the cows he farms. O’Brien will need to show prowess at the breakdown to compete with Smith and create quick ball that is vital to Gatland’s tactics. Alun Wyn Jones and Faletau can and will help, but O’Brien’s part is critical.
Phillips v Genia
The Welshman needs a much better game than the last time he pulled on the Lions jersey. Not for the first in the past couple of years, Genia ran rings around Phillips, whilst Mike just ran into defenders. Genia is the beating heart of the Australian team and the Lions need to find a way of nullifying his threat. Lydiate will do his best, but Phillips must bring his “a-game.”
Sexton v O’Connor
Robbie Deans knew that playing O’Connor at 10 was a risk, especially with Quade Cooper ready, available and left back in Queensland. So, far it’s an experiment that isn’t working. Sexton hasn’t shown his class yet either, although, the service to allow him to do so has been severely lacking. Sexton needs to take the game by the scruff of the neck and quick ball and a bonafide inside centre should help him do this. That same inside centre may also test O’Connor’s ability on the back foot.
Roberts v Leali'ifano
The man so many Lions fans of been waiting to see. The good doctor Roberts is fully fit are raring to go. Christian Leali’ifano was a measure of composure in second, calmly slotting penalty as though he were on the training paddock. How will he cope with a galloping thoroughbred in his channel though? Jonathan Davies ended Leali’ifano’s test debut early with a cannon ball run (79 minutes 8 seconds early in fact), if Leali’ifano doesn’t deal with Roberts his runs could be devastating to the Australian cause.
Davies v Cooper
If one man will be under the spotlight of the British press it will be Jonathan Davies. The man who has taken the jersey that seemed, for all the world, to be reserved for a very special Irishman. Davies’ defence has been drawn into question with a couple of missed tackles last weekend, including one leading to the try that took the spoils. Cooper has the ability to punish the Lions if Davies isn’t up to scratch this week, but Davies performs much better in defence with Roberts inside him. A one man blitz machine, prepare for high impact tackles if the opportunity should present.
North v Folau
This is one for the neutrals. Folau currently leads the try count 2-1 in the tests, but North scored a few psychological point last weekend by lifting Folau on to his shoulders to gain a few precious metres. If the nerves don’t get the better of teams and the ball makes it out wide, this could be a humdinger with the promise of DVD highlights for years to come.
Gatland v Deans
The most important match up of all, the two coaches head-to-head. Already both have signalled their intent to do things their way to contrasting results. Robbie Deans has been lauded a genius for pulling George Smith out of international retirement for the final test. Meanwhile, the knives have been drawn on Gatland for his decision to leave out Brian O’Driscoll and start with 10 Welshmen. In truth, none of these decisions are too wild, but it’s certainly taken a lot of courage and belief to make them. The tactics of both coaches seem evident, even at this early stage. Ultimately it is these tactics, selections and the use of substitutes come game time, that could tip the balance in their team’s favour…or against.
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