LIONS THREATS AND HOW TO COUNTER – FRONT ROW AND SCRUM - Green and Gold Rugby
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LIONS THREATS AND HOW TO COUNTER – FRONT ROW AND SCRUM

LIONS THREATS AND HOW TO COUNTER – FRONT ROW AND SCRUM

Lions scrum v RSA 1Much has been made of the fact that the Welsh team have supplied the head coach, two of the other four coaches, the captain and fifteen players for the 2013 British & Irish Lions. Many think that means the Lions will play like Wales with other players added to the team having to adopt a Welsh style of play.

There is also a view that the ‘Welsh’ style of play is conservative, direct in attack and is built around crashing the ball up into the teeth of the defence before kicking for field position. As I’ll show you over the next couple of weeks this is not really the case with Wales and won’t be the case with the Lions.

The 2009 Lions that toured South Africa were also very ‘Welsh’ – four of the six coaches were from the Welsh team and there were twelve Welsh players in the squad at the start of the tour. With four of the coaches from 2009 returning together with twelve players I expect that the experience the returning coaches and players gained on that 2009 tour will play a bigger role in shaping the 2013 Lions than the fact that there is a large contingent from the Welsh team involved again.

As you’ll see over the course of this series I expect that eleven of the twelve players returning from 2009 will be in the Lions 23 man squad for the first test in Brisbane, barring injury in the lead up matches of course. Warren Gatland will want as much experience as he can get in his team just as Robbie Deans has gone for experience in his initial squad.

I expect that 10 of the 23 will be Welsh so whilst there will be a strong Welsh element we can also learn a lot about how the 2013 Lions will play and their mix of selections from what happened on the 2009 tour. Whilst the Lions went down 2-1 in that series, the first two tests won by South Africa could easily have gone the other way and the Lions played some really good rugby.

In this five part series over the next two weeks I’ll work through my expected Lions selections for the first test, what that means for the Lions playing style, the Lions threats and how the Wallabies might counter those. Hopefully this gives you an idea of who the Lions are and what to expect from them. I’ll also give you my predictions of the first test teams for both the Lions and the Wallabies.

Lions Front Row And Scrum

The Lions will see the scrum as a real opportunity to dominate the Wallabies. The Welsh scrum got the better of the Wallaby scrum last year and the Lions scrum will be stronger again than Wales were. The Lions know from their 2009 experience how critical this area can be in shaping the outcome of a game.

In the first test of the 2009 tour the Lions started with Gethin Jenkins (Wales) at loosehead with the English pair of Lee Mears at hooker and Phil Vickery at tighthead. The Lions scrum was completely dominated with Vickery in particular being slaughtered by Beast Mtawarira. Having a small hooker in Mears didn’t help.

Adam Jones

Adam Jones

With South Africa in control of the scrum they had a mountain of possession and controlled the first half. Early in the second half the Lions brought the Welsh pair of Adam Jones and Matthew Rees on to replace Vickery and Mears with immediate effect – the Lions actually started to dominate the scrums which established a platform for the rest of the team and it was truly a match of two halves with the Lions playing really well in the second half.

In the second test that all Welsh front row of Jenkins, Rees and Jones started the match and again set a great platform which the Lions capitalised on. In fact it was only when Jenkins and Jones went off injured that the Boks got back into the match. Jamie Roberts (Wales) and Brian O’Driscoll (Ireland) went off around the same time but more on that next week.

The leading candidates for tighthead on this tour will be Jones and Dan Cole (England) – Cole offers a lot more than Jones around the field but I think the experience and scrummaging expertise of Jones will get him the nod with Cole on the bench – the Lions coaches will not forget the impact Jones made on the 2009 tour or the fact that he always seems to trouble Benn Robinson whereas Robinson handles Cole reasonably well. If you focus on Jones being 33, his non-athletic appearance, his lack of speed and contribution around the field, you’re focussing on the wrong things – he will be picked for his scrummaging, not contributions around the field – a very different approach to what we see with the Wallabies.

Richard Hibbard

Richard Hibbard

I think the choice for hooker will be between Richard Hibbard (Wales) and Dylan Hartley (England). The third hooker in the squad, Tom Youngs (England), is small and relatively inexperienced as a scrummager – he has only played nine tests. I was amazed that Rory Best (Ireland) was not included in the touring party but his exclusion is good news for the Wallabies.

Hibbard made his debut for Wales in 2006 but has only earned 23 caps since then, with only nine starts – he cemented the Wesh starting spot in 2013 with some solid performances. Hartley is the most experienced hooker in the squad having played 47 tests, 28 of which were starts but his form hasn’t been great and he was surpassed by Youngs this year as the starting hooker for England.

Hibbard is the better scrummager whilst I think Hartley is the better lineout thrower. I expect Hibbard’s combination with Jones and his strength around the field will count for him and that he will start with Hartley on the bench. We didn’t get to see much of Hibbard when Wales played the Wallabies in 2012 so don’t judge him purely on his performance off the bench in the second test last year.

Cian Healy

Cian Healy

At loosehead I think the choice will be between Jenkins and Cian Healy (Ireland). The coaches may be tempted to go with the all Welsh front row of Jenkins, Hibbard and Jones to start but I think they will eventually go with Healy at loosehead because he has a good track record of dominating Wallaby tightheads when playing for Ireland. He contributes a lot around the field, has been in good form and will be a real threat to the Wallabies.

So, my tips for the Lions front row are:

1. Cian Healy

2. Richard Hibbard

3. Adam Jones

16. Dylan Hartley

17. Gethin Jenkins

18. Dan Cole

Watch the video below to see some examples of what we can expect from the Lions front row, which will help establish what the Wallabies need to do to counter the threat from the Lions, which I’ll cover on page 2.

Pages: 1 2

  • Guest

    Looking at that the Wallaby props would really want to get their hips low!!

  • Guest

    Surely Healy bores in??

  • Bairdy

    Great analysis Scott; certainly cleared up some confusion I had around the Wallabies tightheads and which one should start.

    I do have a query or two though: Do you think tactically if the Lions name an alternate front row, i.e. one that is more dynamic around the park, like say Healy, Youngs and Cole, should we go like for like with say Alexander, Moore, Slipper, or is that foolhardy?

    Also, with one of the refs being Poite, would it not be wise to go for our most technically excellent scrummaging front row, like Robinson, Moore, and Palmer/Slipper/Kepu, as he’s likely to penalise heavily here?

    Whether or not Deans has these sorts of considerations in the back of his mind is another thing, but would just like to know your opinion. Cheers.

    • Scott Allen

      Bairdy

      I can see no circumstances where you wouldn’t start Benn Robinson – he’s our best scrummaging prop and provides our best chance of competing in the scrums. He is quite good around the field and has been in good form.

      All three referees in the series penalise regularly at scrum time so that will be an area of concern – the most penalised prop in the Wallabies squad is Alexander but I still expect Deans will start with him.

      I doubt Palmer would start in the first test given he’s not in the initial squad, even if he comes into the final squad.

  • Patrick

    Looking at that the Wallaby props would really want to be getting their posture spot-on. Seems a shame that Dan Cole isn’t there, it seems like you were able to find footage of every single other prop dominating him!

    Also, how is Cian Healy not just boring in on the tighthead in all of those videos?

    • Scott Allen

      Finding footage of Cole struggling against ‘really good’ looseheads isn’t hard!

      He’s a good prop but ‘really good’ looseheads are hard for any ‘good’ tighthead to counter.

      Robinson is a ‘really good’ loosehead and that’s why I’m sure Jones, who is a ‘really good’ tighthead, will start to try and nullify him.

      Whilst the law says the drive must be straight, if the way Healy is driving was considered boring in, you’d have a penalty at the vast majority of scrums – an amount of angling in is generally tolerated unless the drive is primarily across.

      What referees seem to penalise as ‘angling in’ is when they see the hips come out as part of the drive which is a clear sign that the loosehead is primatily driving across rather than primarily forward.

      • Patrick

        In at least some of those his hips went at least 45degrees across!

    • Jimmy

      Without a second shoulder touching to even out the weight, there will always be some “boring in” I guess. Not that I know much about the technicalities of scrummaging. I only know what I can see and what you see is usually which scrum goes forward and which goes backwards.

    • desmond mc cabe

      Perhaps your comments about Healy might be classed a tad “boring” just you wait and see, then come back and comment!

  • Kiap

    Always appreciate these analyses. The Wallabies’ scrum has a lot of work to do, but only having three locks in the squad leaves me confounded.

    Perhaps they want another look at Douglas or Pyle or McMeniman but if the preparation time is only three weeks then waiting until halfway through would seem strange. Is Sharpie going to be roped in to do some opposed scrum training? Some bloke from club rugby?

    But seriously, they must be looking at adding a proper fourth lock BEFORE the training camp starts on June 2. Otherwise it just doesn’t seem to make sense.

    • cm

      I don’t get it. Why can’t the WBs train against a non-selected squad? Is there a rule somewhere that says each squad can only do opposed work with other players selected for that squad? Seems daft to me, and contrary to past practice.

      • Scott Allen

        Because the non-selected players will be training with their Super Rugby teams.

        The compromise was that only 25 players would be released from Super Rugby playing and training.

        • cm

          If Academy members are too busy filling in for their Wallabies colleagues, I’m sure some half-decent first grade players from Sydney and Brisbane could be persuaded to help out.

          Doesn’t show much imagination by the ARU. But then, that’s the organisation that scheduled one training session before the Scotland Test.

  • BigAl

    There’s been a lot said about the Wallabies not selecting attacking players, mainly in the backs. Well the Lions scrum will attack and we need to counter that (at scrum time). Can’t wait! Not interested in playing ‘exciting’ Super rugby, looking forward to hard fort, brutal, nowhere to hide rugby. I still feel there are a lot of fans on G&G who have no idea what the Lions will bring and the immensity of the challenge for all the Wallaby players.

  • baz

    At 1.32 I thought I heard you say an Ausie prop was considered the best in the world at that time? What world was that you were thinking of?

  • Drongo

    Living and playing in Euro and watching a lot od Euro rugby I think I can say that the wallabies are in trouble here. All THPs in the squad are not ‘specialist’ THPs but rather LHPs who can play both sides. This is a real problem. As Scott rightly pointed out the 2009 Lions got whooped in the first test in the scrum…guess what they lost. What is going to make us any different? Deans seems to be selecting based on neutralising lions front row by selecting horses for courses. i digress…I note A Jones is quite short. I stood next to him and he is no taller than 5’9. I looked at his stats and it says 5’11 but that’s crap. Same goes for Benn Robbo. Stood next to him and he is also 5’9 at best. Deans can assume that his shortness is a good counter to A Jones. Same goes for Alexander. His height will be in mind when Deans is selecting as C Healy is taller. So in summary Deans seems to be selecting a defensive scrum aimed at achieving parity with the lions. This is a mistake in my view. Another option would be to create a front row based around disrupting the lions strength. Palmer at front row is shorter and stronger at THP. The difference in height may tip the balance of the loose head C Healy. He is also an unknown to the Lions so will not carry the same mental scars as Alexander. Admittedly Robbo is probably the best option at LHP but Kepu/Sio would be an alternative as they are taller and may again unsettle the balance of lions THP A Jones. An un balanced lions front row disrupts the power transfer from their front row, and massive second rowers. Thus an unstable lions front row = no lever in which to pivot power from behind = reduction of Lions dominance. Deans choice seems to be based on an attempt to achieve parity. We cannot do this in my view.

    • The Ham

      Maybe his spine was compacted when you met him. Jones is probably near enough to 5’11” or a touch under halfway between 5’7″ and 6’6″.

  • ben

    This is an unusaly Liosn pack in that it doesnt worry me particularly….especially if they pick an all welsh front row…….we have not had too many problems the past year or 2 with the english or welsh front rows. Our pack will actually be heaviler than the Lions especially if they pick adn English and welsh back row.

    Our issue will be with the BACKS….the lions will field a MONSTER backline. Just enormous. from 12 through 15 will all be 100kgs and over.

    I am very worried about this,

    BTW excellent article….i love it

    • ben

      Sorry for the spelling was created on my iphone…you get the idea. Backs awesome…forwards not so much

    • big ginger 8

      Except BO’D will probably be in there and he’s less than 100 as are all the 15’s and Bowe. I get your point though.

      Spot on analysis. You guys might be lucky because by the sounds of hit Healy will need surgery after the tour, but still a not someone I’d want to be tackling. I was also surprised by Best not being picked. It was mainly because of his perceived drop in standard of throwing which wasn’t helped by a lot of factors. I think we’ll end up seeing a lot of dropped scrums in true Aussie style especially given that frontrow could be powered by PO’C and Jones. I tink you guys need Palmer.

      • big ginger 8

        Also I’d like to say the only personsince the 6N I’ve seen get anything that looks like dominance over Jones, was young Jack McGrath who’s 6′ 120kg. So don’t necessarily buy the shorter prop thing. Though clearly you don’t want someone who’s 6’5″.

  • Jimmy

    I must admit I’m concerned about what these guys might do to Slipper. His work around the field is fantastic but a great THP he is not. If Deans starts Slipper all Gatland has to do is play the game of heavy defence, holding players up, and contesting midfield bombs hoping for mistakes.

    With Deans playing the center field, single pass runners strategy, holding up the carrier and heavy defence should be an easy play for the Lions. This should result in scrums.

    If Deans plays anyone but Folau at 15, the center field bombs are a good chance of resulting in knockons and scrums.

    I hope I a just being pessimistic but I seem to be able to see many more ways the Lions can beat us, and our standard game plan, than I can see us beating them.

  • All our problems are solved if Dan Palmer can perform for the Brumbies with there fixture against the Lions. His output is much higher that Jones around the park and that is reason enough to go with him. We only need 60-65 mins out of him and then hopefully James Slipper can come on and finish the job and add a bit of punch around the park.

  • Who was second row when Jones got the better of Cat? Wonder if there’s any more positivity with Timani and Horwill behind them…?

    • Scott Allen

      It was Nathan Sharpe behind Cat so there was plenty of weight behind him

  • PomPom

    As an Englishmun, I wish that we had someone running a site dedicated to our national team like GGR does!

    I just wanted to mention that Dan Cole isn’t as bad a scrummager as he sometimes looks for England. Recently he has been playing with our 2nd/3rd choice looseheads, Marler/Vunipola, with Marler the eldest at 23. Needless to say, both have struggled at domestic level, let alone internationally. And we have been picking a pair of locks in Geoff Parling and Joe Launchbury who for all their many qualities, are beanpoles.

    His scrummaging for Leicester has been very strong, where he has two very good looseheads and a better balanced second row. He and Tom Youngs are part of a scrum that, this season has easily handled Adam Jones’ Ospreys, and Toulon, who had tight five including Sheridan, Hayman and Bakkies Botha.
    Adam Jones is still clearly superior as a scrummager, but it’s hardly light and day.

    And I wouldn’t be so certain about Hartley over Youngs.
    Youngs has been the Premiership player of the season, and he should thrive on your surfaces…

    • Scott Allen

      Thanks for the feedback – I’ve got 4 more parts of the series to go starting tomorrow with an analysis of the Locks for the Lions.

      Hope you’ve got some commentary on the other articles for us.

    • Helennsteve Stevenhelen

      Good points about Cole, speaking as a welsh person and a longtime AJones cheerleader I think the contest for tighthead is closer than many imagine. Cole is a class act IMHO. As for the 2009 experience I am firmly of the view that Vickery appeared to be monstered whereas it was the Vickery Chuter combination that was monstered, in part because the ref allowed the SA front row to drive inwards from both sides of Chuter so going across and between both Chuter and Vickery. It was the combination of Jones and Rees that were immediately able to counteract that. Youngs on this tour will only come off the bench, because the Lions will not want to give the Aussies even a ghost of a chance to disrupt the front row. The main issue on selection for hooker is going to be lineout throwing, because the Lions will want to completely dominate there, and not waste the chance to dominate by errant throwing. Hartley is a better thrower in my opinion (though there is not a great deal in it) so would get the nod from me.

      • BOPSteamers

        Tighthead/Hooker combinations only come into reckoning when being disrupted/or attacking opp. Hookers. Handling loose heads is the job solely for the tighthead (and on occasions the scrum savvy flanker who may come in illegally and disrupt loose heads boaring or whip/wheel)

        It is for this I say Vickery was fairly beaten and this is also supported by the fact that he was substituted I believe before halftime. Jones came on and quickly rectified the situation. I agree however on the selection of Coles being a lot closer than often believed. Whilst the wallabies will be looking for parity in the scrum there lineouts are a far better weapon than many northerners (and southerners for that matter) believe. Again the absence of Sharpe will be an interesting side note.

        • Nick Hill

          Another point on the Beast vs Vickery debate is also the refereeing. In the 1st test the referee gave all the penalties to SA for Vickery popping up/going to ground. In the 3rd test where Vickery came back in the scrums were very similar but the referee gave all the penalties for the Beast boarring in on the hooker. As always the scrum was as much about interpretation as actual play.

          I don’t disagree that Jones/reese sured things up though.

        • Looseheads don’t boar in on Hookers they boar in on Tightheads…the difference between legal boaring and illegal is that when looseheads hips are square it is fine and he is able to use his close connection with his hooker and his head aims for sternum and/or badge. The damage is actually done through the strength of the L/H right shoulder and the strength of the hookers left shoulder and they close the “space” between each other. This is completely legal.

          The illegality occurs when the loosehead decides that he will work alone, his hips will come out often destablising his own lock from the T/H lock and he will look to either wheel by “walking around” or by wheeling out and shooting in.

          A good T/H is able to deal easily with the illegal wheel, it is the exceptional ones that are strong enough through height and range of motion (and a damn good T/H Lock) that are able to deal with the loosehead that stays square yet still boars in.

          This may be an unpopular opinion but i believe that the first test was the best refereeing performace Bryce Lawrence has ever exhibited at test level. This is emphasised by the quick action of scrum doctor Graham Rowntree to substitute Vickery early on.

  • Gottsy

    Hi Scott I know it’s a bit late but who could you see being a third string hooker for the test series? I was thinking Hanson?

  • Helennsteve Stevenhelen

    Excellent articles, and genuinely informative about lions players to us of the NH persuasion. Sharing them with all my friends

  • Tom

    Yesterday’s events with Hartley mean that Hibbard is now almost certainly the Lions 1st Test hooker (I thought they might have started with Hartley and brought Hibbard on). The Lions are not coming to get the better of the Wallabies scrum. They are coming to absolutely destroy it. And I fear they will. Cardiff 2010 and worse.

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@ScottA_

Scott is one of our regular contributors from the old days of G&GR. He has experience coaching Premier Grade with two clubs in Brisbane.

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