Tommy Bowe is set to come straight into the Lions starting team for the second Test against Australia after recovering from his hand injury. Despite a clinical finish for his try in the first Test, Alex Cuthbert appears to have lost out to the Ulster wing’s more polished skills and experience at this level. The Welshman should be retained in the match day squad.
At scrumhalf, Mike Phillips is struggling with a long-standing knee injury, which may explain his uncharacteristically untidy performance in the first Test. Ben Youngs looks set to take over in the number nine shirt, with Conor Murray unexpectedly catapulted into the match day 23. It would be entirely deserved for the Munster man, who has enjoyed an excellent tour.
Dan Lydiate appears to have won the battle at blindside, taking over from Tom Croft after the Englishman failed to reach Warren Gatland’s exacting standards in the first Test. It is likely that Croft will be retained on the bench, from where he also covers the second row. Lydiate’s brief would certainly revolve around stifling Will Genia’s influence.
Sean O’Brien, tasked with making a big impact in the second half, should join Croft as a replacement. The Leinster flanker will be keen to show exactly what the Lions were missing last weekend. His name is not one Robbie Deans and the Wallabies will be pleased to see on the team sheet.
Alex Corbisiero’s calf strain hasn’t healed as quickly as Lions staff had hoped, meaning Mako Vunipola looks the probable starter at loosehead. His scrummaging remains a worry, but his work rate in the loose is a boost. Ryan Grant’s final audition against the Rebels yesterday wasn’t enough to win him a Test team spot.
Possible Lions Squad for Second Test
Starting XV: Halfpenny, Bowe, O’Driscoll, Davies, North; Sexton, B. Youngs; Heaslip, Warburton (c), Lydiate; Parling, A.W. Jones; A. Jones, T. Youngs, Vunipola.
Replacements: Hibbard, Grant, Cole, Croft, O’Brien, Murray, Farrell, Cuthbert.
And what of the Australian team…will Beale be catapulted into out-half, O’Connor to wing and Folau to 15?
They’ve so many options don’t they? I’d love to see what you’ve mentioned there but I can’t see Deans ditching JOC at 10. Plus, I think Beale is classy in fullback, on attack at least. I think they will look for Folau to come off his wing a little more on Saturday if that’s where he plays. He held width really well in the first Test, but he would be a danger popping up on the centre’s shoulders.
I think Tuilagi should come in at 12 for some more ball carrying
That would have made sense to me too James. But looks like Gatland will back Davies to bosh it that little bit harder than the first Test! Vunipola adds another strong carrying presence which definitely helps.
Can’t wait to see Sexton and Youngs in combo, should be very interesting.
The tactics this week with POC gone, Bowe and possibly Roberts back and Youngs in should make for very interesting viewing.
Would be worried about the impact Genia could have, however Youngs has shown he can thrive against OZ before, remember him having a stormer in AIs two years ago.
Youngs could be what Sexton needs to hit his best form, which I personally don’t think we’ve seen at all. Had a few lovely chips in the first Test, but that aside he didn’t look as threatening as he can. Perhaps Youngs’ quick service could get him flatter to the gainline and creating more. Hope so!
Croft as second-row cover sounds a bit gone in the head. The scrum is too much of a penalty fest for Gatland to allow that kind of weakness. Croft playing Saturday Tuesday Saturday seems unlikely to me so I think he might be out of the squad altogether. Bench at best.
B Youngs does appear to be favourite after being hidden on the bench for the Rebels match. Gatland said he had a poor game against the Brumbies, but that didn’t affect his choice of him as substitute. I have a sneaking suspicion he’ll go for Murray with Youngs on the bench, but no evidence to back that up.
Bowe over Cuthbert is an obvious choice. Bowe is faster, more elusive and a better footballer. Cuthbert’s ability to run through an open door should not guarantee his place.
Some good points Henry. Croft as cover for the 2nd row would indeed leave them light in the scrummaging department. On the flip side, you have two excellent (in different ways) ball carriers on the bench to really change the game in the last 30 minutes. I think Gatland will place a big emphasis on avoiding the situation of last week where the Lions were holding on at the end.