Brian O'Driscoll

Brian O’Driscoll

I believe that the selection of the Lions starting centres will tell us a lot about how they intend to attack.

There are four centres in the Lions squad – Jonathan Davies (Wales), Brian O’Driscoll (Ireland), Jamie Roberts (Wales) and Manu Tuilagi (England).

Of those Roberts and Tuilagi are big, powerful men who use their bulk to bend the opposition defensive line whereas O’Driscoll and Davies rely on more subtlety.

There is an expectation that the Lions will choose Roberts and Tuilagi in combination to spearhead a direct, power running game in mid-field. Their selection together would confirm that the attack will be very direct without too much variation.

Jamie Roberts

Jamie Roberts

On the 2009 Lions tour Warren Gatland and Rob Howley were two of the selectors who chose the combination of Roberts at number twelve and O’Driscoll at number thirteen. This provided a balnced combination with power at inside centre and guile at outside centre. Gatland and Howley are the Welsh coaches who combine the power of Roberts at number twelve with the guile of Davies at number thirteen. There is a clear pattern of the coaches selecting a balanced centre combination.

In the first test in 2009 the Lions set piece was unable to deliver much quality ball to attack with but even with disrupted ball Roberts and O’Driscoll caused the South Africans all sorts of problems. They swapped starting positions regularly but the really impressive thing about their play was the combination – it looked like they’d been playing alongside each other for years. In the second test they were again outstanding and on the back of the threat they posed the Lions were well on their way to victory. Then Roberts, O’Driscoll, Adam Jones and Gethin Jenkins all got injured within a relatively short period of time and had to leave the field. Their absence completely changed the match and South Africa scraped home after the siren to win the series.

Despite the fact that there was a lot of Welsh influence on that 2009 Lions team, they played a far more attacking game than Wales and the Roberts / O’Driscoll partnership was at the heart of most of their attack. It worked so well in 2009 on fast, dry grounds that I expect that combination will be continued in the first test against the Wallabies. Their selection together would tell us that the Lions attack will have a lot more variety than many are expecting and increase the Lions threats.

Jonathan Davies

Jonathan Davies

O’Driscoll may be getting on in years but he is so experienced and is not known as the ‘Prince Of Centres’ without justification. He cannot be given too much space to move – his speed might have come off a bit but his vision and handling skills are still excellent and he creates so many opportunities for players around him.

People often talk about the advantages of a second playmaker at number twelve but O’Driscoll fills that role from number thirteen. After seeing Roberts charging down the 10/12 channel a number of times, don’t be surprised to see O’Driscoll pop up at number 12 and use his skills to create a half chance for Roberts at number thirteen or for wider players. Roberts will also be used as a decoy at number twelve with the ball going behind him from Sexton to O’Driscoll who then sets up wider plays.

I think Davies will be the remaining back on the bench as he has also played on the wing for Wales so I expect the following selections:

12. Jamie Roberts

13. Brian O’Driscoll

23. Jonathon Davies

Watch the video below for some examples of what I think we can expect from my predicted Lions centres, then read how I think the Wallabies can counter these threats on page 2.

Pages: 1 2

  • Dougall

    In my opinion Roberts has the 12 jersey set, leaving the other 3 to fight it out for the 13 jersey

    • Scott Allen

      I think you’re right Dougall – the Lions backline will be based on Roberts at #12. Then they need to select a #13 that will compliment him.

      At international level we know Davies does from their Welsh tests together and we know O’Driscoll does from their 2009 Lions tests together.

      Whether Tuilagi does is unknown – it will be something tried for the first time in the lead up matches. I can’t see that combination being risked in the first test so the choice at #13 will come down to Davies or O’Driscoll.

      Roberts has never played better at international level than he did alongside O’Driscoll in 2009 – that’s one of the keys for me.

      • Dougall

        Yeah exactly, on they 2009 tour they just had that special chemistry of knowing where each other are. Roberts would smash through the defence then offload to O’Driscoll in an uncanny fashion, as if he just knows he is there every time.

      • Ottawan

        Sure, Roberts has 12 down pat, but I’m not so sure BOD will take 13. It all depends on his fitness. Pairing Roberts with Tuilagi in the centres would kill the wide channels; both are far too “crash ball” for a wide game. As you say, Roberts does have some other nuances to his his game but if he were to work with Tuilagi he’d have little chance to put those to work. I don’t see BOD taking the same role he did in 2013, at least not throughout the entire series, if only because Davies offers what BOD does while still being young, fresh, and quick.

        That said, what do you think they’ll do if one of them gets injured? Say Tuilagi is out for the tour and can’t pair with someone else during the midweek games against Super Rugby sides? Do you see Farrell switching to 12, as he has done for Saracens?

        • Gnostic

          Exactly right IMO Ottawan. BOD ‘s selection will hing on his fitness and he isn’t as young as he was and his form and body let him down a bit in recent times.

  • Who?

    It’s amazing to see all this footage of the Lions playing attacking Rugby on the 2009 tour. It feels as though they scored more tries and created more opportunities in those three Tests than we did in all of the last year…

    • Scott Allen

      This is why I’ve been surprised that lots of people in Australia have been talking about direct, conservative attack from the Lions in 2013.

      That would be the opposite of what the Lions did in 2009 when but for those injuries to key players in the second test and that bombed try from the winger in the first test they looked like they should have won the series.

      Four of the six coaches from 2009 and 13 players back again. I think we’ll see plenty of attack from the Lions in 2013.

      • Who?

        At least someone will be attacking… I’m not completely surprised, after all, Wales do try to attack (the problem when they played us was Priestland was doing the Barnes – kicking before realizing there was space to run). But at the same time I didn’t see much of the 2009 tour. Looks like it was all people said and more!

  • wowjiffylube

    I’d almost forgotten how good the Roberts/O’Driscoll combination was. There could be some surprise selections though. In 2009, Tommy Bowe played centre in the 3rd Test and was superb. Tuilagi has played much of his career on the wing for Leicester, particularily when his brother was injured. Both Sexton and Farrell have played internationally in the centres. It’s a hell of a melting pot, and only time, injuries and form will sort it out.

  • Try_Ranosaurus Rex

    I really hope you’re wrong about Horne or McCabe starting at 12.
    Regardless of people’s opinions of McCabe and Horne as ‘bashers’ or ‘defensively orientated’, I still believe these guys are more than capable playing at no.12 for the Wallabies. However, I think if Deans goes for these two players it will be signalling intention of the wrong tactics. We simply can’t out Lions the Lions in the midfield.
    For me the choice is Lealiifano without question.

  • Piggy

    Are we going to have a second (decent) kicking option in the backline? I reckon even if Beale is welcomed back on the paddle-board, Barnes will be in at 12 or 15…

  • Jay

    Rob Horne has copt a lot of shit over the years but i gotta say this year he’s looked really good at inside centre

  • Gedmen

    Really enjoying your analysis here in Ireland Scott thanks. Fully agree we’ll see Roberts and O’Driscoll start the first test if both fit. Yes we saw a little bit of magic in 2009 but i don’t think its something that can be counted on four years later and if they don’t fire the Lion’s may look pretty tame here.

  • Pedro

    What I don’t understand about Lealiifano is why his all round game works against him. He is just as good at crash ball and tackling as Horne or McCabe, he just has other strings to his bow. As seen at the brums he can certainly adhere to a game plan, just give him a chance.

    • Scott Allen

      Pedro – I don’t think it will be anything to do with capability.

      I think it will come down to experience at test level – Deans keeps saying how much experience matters.

      It seems that Disk is trying to minimse risks rather than take any. He would have to be certain that the rewards of starting Lealiifano in a crucial position would outweigh any potential risk.

      • Pedro

        Thanks for the reply, really enjoying the series.

        I can’t argue with the fact that Lealiifano has the least possible amount of international rugby experience. I do wonder, however, if Horne’s experience might not work in his favor.

        I tend to think you’re relaying what you think Deans will do, just wondering what your own opinion is. With the look of the squad, I think Christian is going to play some part in the series and as the form 12, with no incumbent he should get the gig. Have Barnes in the squad as cover and there’s virtually no risk.

        • Who?

          Scott’s been pretty clear in his selections – he’s said (from memory) he’d have Quade at 10, and Lealiifano at 12. But Robbie will play JOC/McCabe-Horne.
          I think we should all feel sorry for Scott, for having to try and channel Robbie’s thoughts… I hope it’s not affecting his life outside G&GR too badly.

        • Scott Allen

          As you say this is what I think Deans will do. As I wrote in the article I would have Lealiifano at #12.

  • Patrick

    so Ashley-Cooper can’t make the mistake of running across field – instead he needs to go straight at O’Driscoll and commit him before passing the ball to his outside supporters who’ll then have some space to operate in.

    Not historically his strong point! :(

  • shazam

    Davies has never played on the wing for Wales nor for his club. He or Tuilagi might make the bench – it’ll be interesting to see who they do pick because Wales usually pick Hook and Scott Williams on the bench. Hook is the 10/15 cover, Williams the 12/13 cover. An injury to a wing means Hook to 15, Halfpenny to wing, but the Lions will have, probably, Farrell who can do 10 or, at a push, 12. Ditto Sexton.

    It’ll be interesting to see what bench they go with. I suspect Roberts and O’Driscoll to be starting, if fit.

  • USARugger

    Sexton should do a better job of bringing his centers into the game than the previous Lions 10s did on top of all of this. He’s quicker than all of them (except possibly Hook) and loves to play flat to the line off of quick ball at Leinster. If Gatland lets him play like he let Priestland at the RWC J. Roberts will be giving the midfield some serious headaches.

  • James Bradley

    Hi Chaps, quick note from an Ulster, Ireland and Lions fan to say thanks for the great analysis here – looking forward to your views on the Baabaas match here this weekend! All the best JB

    • No worries – just tell your mates about it!

  • BOPSteamers

    Not all that worried about the centres to be honest unless the lions completely dominate scrumtime ( which I suppose could be likely haha) but for me Roberts has never caused Wallabies problems. The key to beating Wales is stopping Roberts getting gain line, which is something we’ve always been successful with whether they use Mcabe, Horne or even Barnes. I’m not sure however whether Lealifano is as staunch defensively as those 3 and so would be the only reason I would hesitate to pick him.

    • Taffythebeermonster

      Primarily because, when Roberts has been fit, some of the key forwards have been missing instead……

  • david baldwin

    Scott – Great article, do you think that their is any chance that BOD will play 12 with Tuilagi at 13?? I think that would be a fantastic combination!

    • Scott Allen

      That may come at some stage in the tour to see if it works but I think Roberts is a definite starter at #12 in the first test so the question then is only who’ll play #13 to partner him.

  • ElCid

    If you really think that BOD is not going to start, then you live in a different Universe from the rest of us……. he’s comin’ to get yaaaaaaa……….it is written in the stars that he will finish his Lions career in style…….1 good reason to remind you of this fact… this (and note the number of times a green and gold jersey features)……BRILLIANCE cannot be denied…..ENJOY……….


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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