LIONS THREATS AND HOW TO COUNTER THEM – THE BACK THREE - Green and Gold Rugby
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LIONS THREATS AND HOW TO COUNTER THEM – THE BACK THREE

LIONS THREATS AND HOW TO COUNTER THEM – THE BACK THREE
Rob Kearney

Rob Kearney

In the first four parts of this series I’ve talked a lot about the performances of those 2013 Lions players who also played in the 2009 series against South Africa and how the coaches would favour their experience when making selections for this series.

In the first test of the 2009 series Lee Byrne (Wales) started at fullback with Rob Kearney (Ireland) coming off the bench. Byrne played reasonably but when Kearney came on he gave an absolute master class in fullback play. He retained the starting position for the second and third tests. There is a very good case for starting with him at fullback again in Australia.

Leigh Halfpenny

Leigh Halfpenny

However that would mean ignoring the brilliant play of Leigh Halfpenny (Wales) over the last few years. Halfpenny was selected for the 2009 tour, then had to withdraw due to injury but since that time has been superb for Wales. He was voted the player of the Six Nations tournament in 2013 – he is very good under the high ball, in defence and provides a good link in attack. His goal kicking is also a great asset, particularly from long range so I expect he will start at fullback.

George North

George North

On one wing I expect George North (Wales) will be a definite starter – he is a constant threat in attack and is good under the high ball. He comes infield looking for work in attack and will be a handful when running as an alternative direct runner to Jamie Roberts.

There are three other wingers in the Lions squad – Tommy Bowe (Ireland), Alex Cuthbert (Wales) and Sean Maitland (Scotland). If Halfpenny starts at fullback I think you can add Kearney to the list as a potential wing candidate.

I think this spot is one that is really up for grabs and form in the lead up matches will be the determining factor.

Alex Cuthbert

Alex Cuthbert

There is an expectation that Cuthbert will start on the other wing to provide two big ball runners out wide but I’m not so sure. In my opinion he and North are very similar players and will be competing for the one spot as the Lions will want a little more variety on the other wing.

I think Bowe could be the leading contender – he started in all three tests for the Lions in 2009 and was the leading try scorer in the 2012 Six Nations before suffering a knee injury that ruled him out for most of the 2013 season. He only started playing for Ulster a month or so before the squad was picked so he’ll have to show he’s returned to form if he’s going to be selected.

Tommy Bowe

Tommy Bowe

Without seeing any of the lead up matches it’s a bit of a guess but I’ll go with Bowe. If Bowe or Kearney don’t start I expect they’ll battle it out with Jonathan Davies for the last bench spot but I’ve already said I expect that Davies will get the nod so the remaining three spots in what I expect will be the Lions first test team are:

11. George North

14. Tommy Bowe

15. Leigh Halfpenny

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

Pages: 1 2 3

  • Lewis

    These are fantastic Scott. Great insight for those of us that don’t or can’t follow Northern Hemisphere rugby as closely as we should. Should shape up to be a cracking series.

  • Jack Mallick

    I wouldn’t mind at all if Smith was in the starting team, if he was available, even if he had to go straight back to Japan. He’s a legend of the game and played brilliantly until his injury, he’s earned it.

    If Folau plays without making the commitment to Rugby, it grates a little bit with me I admit. But at the end of the day, he’s played a great Super season for the Tahs, and has shown plenty of guts and the attitude to really give it a crack. Begrudgingly, he’s earned it. He could even win the series for us.

    Beale, bugger. I don’t know. I don’t like it, but if I have a cold shower and squint real hard, I can understand why Deans would stick by him. Beale stood up for Deans last year when he was needed most, and worked hard to reward Dean’s faith in him. I believe he’ll do it again.

    But Burgess. It’s just not right. It can’t happen, no way. He won’t even play a game in Australia before the last 6 names are chosen. I refuse to believe that he will be chosen in the squad.

    I hope you’re wrong Scott

  • Jack Mallick

    Great article, by the way. I dreamt last night that Vickerman was available again, just like the world cup year. The sooner someone fills his shows, next to Horwill, the sooner another Golden Age will be upon us.

    • MMM is the closet person we have to the physicality of Vickerman. While he has been injured i hope Deans does not forget the great displays he put in for the Force earlier in the season and select him in the 6

    • Patrick

      Someone like Hugh Pyle?

  • Helennsteve Stevenhelen

    great series of articles: for someone from the NH who is not as familiar with SH rugby as I could be they have given me a great insight into the selection dilemmas/controversies for the Wallabies in a really accessible way – setting up a deep understanding of key contests. While I may disagree with some of the selections/points you make about a couple of Lions players you have helped me look at others in a new light.

  • Rugby_Union

    I doubt Heaslip will start. I am currently living in Ireland and all agree that his form has been poor. His running game has certainly died off and I also feel that his work rate in the tight has been ineffective.

    Added to this I feel his leadership of Ireland in the 6 Nations was lacking

    • Bujin

      Agreed. I think Heaslip got into the squad off the back of his performance against Biarritz, which will was good, was against a disorganised defence. Still he is a quality player and when on form he can be very devastating. Maybe the surrounding Lions players will give him that support so he can return to his previous best.

      • Niall Guing

        Agree with Ginger8, I think Heaslip is a highly intelligent player who does a lot of dirty and in some cases cynical work for Leinster and Ireland,
        A backrow with Croft in it for instance is going to need , better in close players and I just think that Gats will go for Heaslip ahead of Folateau
        Love these articles Scott
        What shouldn’t go remiss is the bench and its importance,
        When the lions went down in 09 , the cattle on the bench were not good enough,
        For this reason Gatland may go for impact players on the bench like Grey SOB, Manu and Youngs ,all of whom could add real ballest and go forward momentum .

    • big ginger 8

      With SO’B in the team Heaslip doesn’t make the big runs. As shown recently when the backrow’s more balanced he does.

      He does a huge amoint of work making a ridiculous amount of tackling and work at the breakdown.

      Chronically underrated by some people because he’s not a highlight reel player anymore.

      Don’t really see how you can judge the leadership without playing for him. Think people are presuming it’s bad because of the results but he’s only lost one game in 19 as Leinster captain.

      • Rugby_Union

        I mentioned his international test leadership being poor. Quite different than provincial level I am sure you will agree.
        Added to this with SOB in the team Heaslip still runs…he is after all an 8. Claiming that he does not simply because SOB is a powerful runner is unrealistic.
        And you are right he is a great player on form. I feel however he is not on form (and as an aussie I have to hope that will continue) and so will not start, particularly when Faletu, who has been coached by Gatland and has been playing well, is in the team.
        And I do appreciate work at the breakdown-I play 7 and it and tackling are pretty much my entire game, but I do not feel Heaslip is so outstanding there that he will start

  • PiratesRugby

    You do a better job of promoting Australian rugby than the ARU does!

    Even with the frustrating selections and the unattractive gameplan, I will still watch all the games and hope the WBs tear the BILs a new one.

    How do you think Pyle would go against the BIL locks?

    • Scott Allen

      I have my reservations about Pyle playing so wide at international level.

      Having a lock play so wide is working at the Rebels but test rugby is a much tighter game and I don’t think that having one of your tight five on the wing so often against the Lions would work.

  • JBrizzle

    Great series of articles Scott. I think I would prefer to see the Aussie team you picked running out there. Can you tell me what you think R.Deans will do if we get beaten soundly in the first test. Will he make radical changes or stick to his selections until the bitter end?

  • david baldwin

    Scott – gotta say again great series! This is what i miss from the mainstream media, the one on one matchups etc. Now all they talk about are the controversies, they never build the excitement! I will say though that I do not agree with you about Robbie picking Cummins, he wont!! He will pick Tomane and so he should. That is the one selection I would support Robbie in!! He loves to find a diamond in the rough and he has definitely found one in Joe!!

  • Charles Bates

    Now that Rory Best is included, you still think Hibbard will start?
    (Great set of articles. thanks for taking the time.)

    • Helennsteve Stevenhelen

      I don’t know what SA thinks – but Best would be 2 in my pecking order, as his throwing has been poorer than Hibbard’s. I would have put Hartley at 1 because of his throwing.

    • Scott Allen

      I was surprised Best wasn’t selected originally but his throwing was off in the 2013 Six Nations – the lost Irish lineouts weren’t all the result of poor throws but his throwing was a factor in many of them.

      The coaches clearly thought he was ranked number four before the Hartley implosion. He obviously starts the tour as number three so hard to see them changing their mind so quickly that he jumps up to the number one ranking.

      Best will have to play very well in the lead up matches to even move into the number two position for the first test.

      So, yes I still think Hibbard will start.

  • Pedro

    The only reason I can think of for picking Burgess is that he’s a better version of Phipps. That is, he has a decent running game and defense but can’t pass or kick well.

    It would be absolute bollocks if Burgess is included. It would be at the expense of quality players that have actually played rugby recently and deserve their spot. The only reason they don’t have more experience is because of Deans’ propensity for leaving Genia on for eighty.

  • vince chase

    mccabe, folau on the wing and kb is nonsense two of them aren’t in the team yet and folau has never played wing. i will happily give you a couple of black rats at the cakko if that’s the team, but it most definitely won’t be.

  • MattyG

    Nice article Scott. However, one thing you haven’t considered is HP starting on the wing. He can play both positions well, whereas Kearney is an out-and-out 15, Leinster would move Nacewa to 14 to accommodate him, and he’s like Dagg: very average on the wing. HP is an excellent FB, but if there is one “weakness” to his game, it’s that he doesn’t have the counterattacking running game of Kearney or Hogg. He probably will start at 15, but don’t be surprised to see him at 14 at some stage to accommodate Kearney or Hogg, especially if the Lions are playing catch-up rugby.

    • Helennsteve Stevenhelen

      ” it’s that he doesn’t have the counterattacking running game of Kearney or Hogg” Kearney is more powerful bursting tackles, Hogg I think has greater straight line speed, they each counter attack in a different way, and 1/2p is a more elusive runner. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hogg and 1/2p on the pitch together switching between wing and fullback. But the idea of him switching to wing to accommodate either one at full back (especially not Kearney) in order to give the team greater go forward to play catch-up rugby is a non-starter IMHO. To be honest I can’t see Kearney making the bench, because he only covers one position. So 1/2 p and Kearney are contestants for starter. If Kearney starts then 1/2p would be on the bench ahead of Hogg.

      • MattyG

        I dunno. HP has played a fair bit at 14 for Wales when Byrne was at FB. His attacking play reminds me more of a Doug Howlett style of player, right place right time, but Kearney & Hogg are potentially more lethal running the ball back. Althought RK only plays 15 (on that we agree), he could still be on the bench if HP is at 15 (and covering wing), although I’d rather have Hogg on the bench in that case.

        • Helennsteve Stevenhelen

          Full Back is HP position, he is wasted on the wing, He was 19/20 when Byrne was FB.

  • Graeme

    Great series!

    I think Hornes probably ahead of McCabe in the pecking order for the Wallabies, I expect him to play at 12

    Deans is obviously going with a very defensively minded gameplan which is probably why he is ignoring White. Not that he is a bad defender, but that deans considers him to small.

    I also think it would be a mistake playing Folau on the wing against the Lions unless he plays a few games there first for the tahs. Any positional mistakes or misreads he makes on defense will be harshly penalized by the Lions. It may be easier positionally than fullback but there are still a lot of nuances to defending on the wing. Just look at cooper Vuna, he still couldn’t work out where to stand after 2 years in union on the wing.

  • wilful

    SO having read this entire series with interest, it appears that we have the advantage in only one area, the scrummie, and are matched or bettered in every other area. True or not?

    Should be a joy to watch!

    • Scott Allen

      Think we probably have an advantage at hooker too but yes, I think it will be a strong Lions outfit that will at least match on a player basis apart from 9 and 2.

    • Cam Thomson

      And if you go back to the 2001 series the teams were:

      Lions:

      Perry
      Jmes
      BOD
      Henderson
      Robinson
      Wilkinson
      Howley

      Smith
      Wood
      Vickery
      Johnson
      Grewcock
      Corry
      Hill
      Quinnell

      Aus:
      Latham
      Walker
      Herbert
      Grey
      Roff
      Larkham
      Gregan

      Stiles
      Paul
      Panaho
      Griffin
      Eales
      Finegan
      Smith
      Kefu

      Looking at this I reckon the Lions had the advantage in the front row, probably equal in the second-row, we had the advantage in the loose forwards, equal or slight advantage to us in the halves, advantage to the Lions in the centres and advantage to us in the back three. But when you look at this 2001 Wallabies squad you see class and attack all over it – not so much the 2013 squad.

      If we only just beat them back then with a squad full of greats and the advantage to us it’s hard get optimistic about our prospects!

  • Ottawan

    While I will wait to make my mind up about predictions of the series’ outcome until the last video is out (lest it blow my mind in it’s depth as these ones have), I will say the following. I follow NH and SH rugby equally. Being from Canada where you don’t get ANY professional rugby, I take what I get. And given what I’ve seen of the Lions/Wallabies players in their Test and club matches, I do think on paper the Lions have the upper hand. But an inescapable part of the series will be how the Lions adapt to the different style of play. NH commentators are always going on about the hardness of SH pitches and the way that allows for very fast and physical running Rugby. Maybe Scott’s video on tactics will address some of the ways Gatland will put these potent weapons to use, but as it stands I honestly believe that if the Lions arrive playing like they do for their clubs back home they will quickly fall a game behind and lose the vital momentum.

Analysis
@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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