British & Irish Lions


The bosses have spoken ...

The bosses have spoken …

I don’t think there are too many surprises in the Wallabies and Lions team selections.

Of the 23 Lions players I predicted the week before the tour began in my Lions series, four are unavailable due to injury – Cian Healy, Gethin Jenkins, Jamie Roberts and Tommy Bowe. Of the 19 remaining I predicted 17 so tour form has, in my opinion, reinforced positions for the Lions rather than thrown up too many bolters.

The two I missed with my Lions predictions were:

  • Richie Gray who misses out on the squad for Geoff Parling – no surprise there as Parling has been much better than Gray on tour;
  • Justin Tipuric who misses out on the bench spot to Dan Lydiate – I am surprised with this because Tipuric has been really good on tour and I thought the Lions would want to finish matches with two open sides but Lydiate adds more power so the Lions will obviously try to finish with strength as opposed to speed.

In terms of the starting team I correctly predicted 10 of the 12 that are not injured. The two I got wrong were Richie Gray and Richard Hibbard who I had expected to start at hooker ahead of Tom Youngs. This suggests the Lions preferred Youngs’ mobility and work rate to Hibbard’s size to start the match.

Of the 23 Wallabies players I predicted at the same time, two are out injured – Sitaleki Timani and Scott Higginbotham. Of the remaining 21 I predicted 19 (including my choice of Nick Cummins only if Digby Ioane wasn’t fit).

The two I missed with my Wallabies predictions were:

  • Dave Dennis who misses out to Rob Simmons. I think the Wallabies are taking a gamble by selecting an out and out lock on the bench, particularly given Wycliff Paul’s knee troubles. Having said that, given what’s transpired since I wrote those articles I would have nominated Peter Kimlin over Dennis as the bench player offering the backrow / lock flexibility anyway;
  • Luke Burgess who didn’t ever get a look in over Nick Phipps. I was very surprised when Burgess wasn’t named in the squad. I was never happy with the idea that a player could gain selection in the squad having just arrived from overseas so I’m happy I was proven wrong in this instance. I would have been much happier if Nic White had been named in the original squad and so had not damaged his shoulder playing for the Brumbies but given that he wasn’t available for selection, I’m happy it was Phipps over Burgess.

In terms of the starting team I correctly predicted 11 of the 13 that are not injured (again including my choice of Nick Cummins only if Digby Ioane wasn’t fit). The two I got wrong were Pat McCabe who I had expected to start at #12 and the other was Kurtley Beale who I thought would start at #15. I’m pleased I was wrong about both of those as I didn’t think either player should start even though I thought Robbie Deans would.

The injuries to both squads have had a major impact but which team has suffered the most?

I think the loss of Cian Healy and Jamie Roberts has the major impact for the Lions.

With Healy starting at loosehead I think the Lions would have dominated at scrum time. With Gethin Jenkins also ruled out the Lions have gone with Alex Corbisiero, who didn’t even make the initial touring party. The fact that he has won the starting position over Mako Vunipola suggests that the Lions were concerned about Vunipola’s scrummaging and they still want to target the Wallabies in that area.  With the loss of Healy and Jenkins I don’t think the Wallabies scrum will be under anywhere near the pressure I had feared.

With Roberts starting at #12 in combination with Brian O’Driscoll at #13, I think we would have seen a lot of Roberts running the ball straight at James O’Connor and Christian Lealiifano to get the Lions going forward and lay a platform for their outside backs whereas with Jonathon Davies starting at #12 I expect we’ll see a much more diverse approach to the Lions attack. Roberts’ form has been solid on tour without being spectacular whereas Davies has been really good so I actually think the Lions are more dangerous as a result of this change.

The impact of the loss of Scott Higginbotham and Sitaleki Timani on the Wallabies is both a curse and a blessing for the team.

Higginbotham would have been the starting #6 for the Wallabies as far as I was concerned and his aggression would have been a major boost for the Wallabies. His form over the last couple of months for the Rebels had been fantastic – Hugh McMeniman is the only player in the Wallabies squad who can offer something similar so Higginbotham is a real loss and could have the most impact for either team.

The loss of Timani, whilst terrible for the player himself, has improved the Wallabies pack in my opinion. The inclusion of Kane Douglas offers a much better option in the lineout and more impact around the field. There is no loss of impact from this selection at scrum time.

So, overall I think the Wallabies prospects are better than they would have been without the injuries to both squads.

What about the tactics of both sides – have they changed since I wrote my original Lions series previews?

Despite being beaten by the Brumbies earlier this week I don’t expect to see much change in the Lions test game plan with the exception that Roberts won’t be crashing the ball up to start many of their attacks. They will be a very different proposition to what we saw against the Brumbies.

I speculated that the Wallabies would play a conservative game trying to eliminate risks and aim to grind out a win. We have been hearing this week that the Wallabies are looking to play an expansive game and the selection of Christian Lealiifano supports this but the selection of Berrick Barnes at fullback doesn’t as his inclusion likely means that his kicking may be a central feature. I hope I was wrong with my original prediction – I hope the Wallabies do try to attack the edges as I believe it’s their best chance.

Fortunately the time for talk and speculation is nearly over. I can’t wait for Saturday night – good luck to the Wallabies – wouldn’t it be great to see the Lions knocked off twice in one week. 

  • handles

    Good forecasting Scott.

    On Timani, although I agree with you to some extent, the reputation that he has suggests we will miss him in the scrums. I am a big believer that behind every good prop there is a good second rower. How will Benn and Ben hold up with Kev and Douglas?

    • Scott Allen

      I’m not just big on the impact of the middle row on the props ability to do their job, I’m massive about it.

      I’m sure the Wallabies will start with Douglas at TH lock (or should) and when we’ve seen him pack there for the Wallabies previously there has been absolutely no loss of weight or form.

      Horwill is also a good scummaging lock so I think the props will be as well supported as they can be by any other selections in Australia.

  • Groucho Jones

    An excellent article about the accuracy of your picks, mate! The next one could be about the accuracy of your descriptions of your picks. There’s a series in that!

    • Scott Allen

      Thought I might get away with giving myself a pat on the back for getting so close despite making the prediction before the tour even began – but I’ve been exposed!!

      • Groucho Jones

        Actually Scott it was completely tongue in cheek. Please keep up the most expert rugby commentary online.

        • Mitch (In Valencia)

          Here here. I wait with baited breath for Scott’s insights! I literally check GAGR 3 times a day!!

  • Barty Crouch

    Good work Scott and we really like your pages in the NH.

    However, I completely disagree that Parling has been better than Gray? Are you serious or have you been on the liqueur chocolates? Over the course of the tour, Gray has been far, far busier and made much more of an impact – the stats prove it. Parling is a lump who can call a lineout. That’s it. Gray has scored a number of international tries in 20-40 metre bursts and his athleticism is crucial as an impact sub as we’ll need to move the big Aussie units like Douglas and Mowen around. Parling instead of Gray is Gats’ biggest mistake. I can only assume he thinks POC may not last the full 80 and the Lions are prioritising the set piece.

    The other big mistake is Lydiate instead of Tipuric. A defensive rather than offensive selection and we lose the crucial option of having someone who can come on a correct the Lions being massacred at the breakdown (something more likely with Faletau’s high work rate).

    Other than that, spot on. Although I don’t think that you’re giving Corbs enough credit for his scrummaging and I think that Vunipola with his big carries and weaker scrummaging is much, much better suited to being the impact sub that he is.

    • Scott Allen

      As I said in the article I share your surprise regarding Tipuric.

      Yes, I’m serious on Gray – prior to the tour I was very confident of his inclusion but I’ve been disappointed with his impact, not his work rate.

  • Mario

    Righto Legend! Buy yourself some beers and a trophy to celebrate how good your picks were….

    • Scott Allen

      I was hoping someone else would buy me the beer!

      Can’t do the trophy presentation as I stupidly threw out all my old trophies some years ago as they were gathering too much dust.

      • Ooaahh

        Happy to shout you a round Scott. What pub will you be at pregame

        • Scott Allen

          Thanks but I don’t know what plans are pre-game – will be in Caxton car park after the game.

  • Timmy Ofahangowie

    I am privileged to read a guys article which was just so spot on!

  • nick_bish

    I think you’re wrong in your assessment of Corbisiero’s scrummaging compared to Healy, Scott! If Corbisiero had been fit throughout the six nations, instead of missing it entirely, he would have been on the plane. In the autumn internationals, when he played against the Springboks and All Blacks, England went forward and dominated. When he didn’t play against Oz, they were under pressure. We will see on Saturday.

    • Ooaahh

      He bores in and puts his hand on the ground. He’s the new woodcock. Hope he’s penalised off the park.

      • nick_bish

        I guess you mean he can cope when the tight-head when he takes the scrum down and in – which is what Alexander will do… Good luck to him I say!

        • Ooaahh

          No I just mean he cheats

        • MM

          Do you think he bores in more or less than Vunipola? I think its a close run thing as to which is the bigger borer.

        • mxyzptlk

          That might depend on the strength of the tighthead. Ask Scott, but he and Brian Moore talked about this on twitter — that Vunipola often angled in because the tighthead wasn’t strong enough to support himself against Vunipola.

        • nick_bish

          In that case IMO you’re being naive. All front rowers in the professional game, and certainly at this level know how to play the angles, and it’s why Woodcock has been one of the best for so very long…

        • Scrummmmms

          Guys you are aware that boring in is legal as long as the hips are square. Which is why Looseheads like corbisiero is valuable.

  • Goodone

    Would like to know why Palu is there – Kepu too for that matter – they only ever play half-games!

  • kp

    I had only three other concerns about the wallaby team – Palu, Kepu and Hooper. Palu and Kepu struggle to go the distance and fade quickly.
    Hooper is a ball running backrower, but Gill is the number one pilferer in the country as the stats show. Also Gills’ defence is comparitive to Hooper (Hooper has made a few more tackles but has one of the highest missed tackle counts in super 15), and Gills work rate at ‘pick and drives’ is in the top 10 for the super 15. Also in Gills favour is he does not give away penalties like Hooper, who is in the ‘top 4′ for players giving away penalties in the super 15.
    As such, I would have started with Gill since he is the best pilferer in the country with the lowest penalty count against him. Hooper could have been brought on in the second half once the defence tired and at which time his running game could be used to better advantage.

  • Mark

    Any thoughts on the exclusion of Sean O’Brien from the match 23? Would have thought that his ability to play across the backrow and the fact that he’ll make far more of an impact off the bench than Lydiate would have assured him a spot in the 23

    • Scott Allen

      I definitely thought he would be in the running after he played so well against Country.

      Lydiate has been fine but I thought that reserve spot would have come down to Tipuric or O’Brien.


    australia to win by 47 to 3

  • BloodRed

    Nice insightful piece Scott. As usual though it seems that injuries have forced Deans to pick a better team than he would have if all his options had been available. Agree Higgers is the biggest loss for us. Would’ve loved to have seen a Mowen, Higgers Gill/Hooper back row with a fired up Cliffy coming on for the last 20-30.

    • Mica

      Would have rather seen a Mowen, Higgers, Smith back row :)

  • Piggy

    I think the front-row selections are a combination thing as much as impact.

    Youngs is seen as a less effective scrummager so linking him together with Vunipola would lead to a weakened side of the scrum, by combining him together with Corbisiero strengthens it.

    The other combination also works well together Hibbard is seen as a stronger scrummager so the combination with Vunipola doesn’t depower the scrum much.

    Will be interesting to see if they come on as a group together.

  • big ginger 8

    Think Corbiesero is probably actually a slightly better scrummager than Healy, but where the Lions lose out with no Healy is the powerful ball carrying, tonnes of tackles and the odd pilfer.

  • Pommy123

    Scott, have you ever thought about bringing out a series of videos aimed at coaching? Your analysis on the Wales/Lions attack system was brilliant, similar vids on defence/attack would be absolute gold dust for many school coaches struggling to get their point across to a load of teenagers.

    Apologies if you have already thought of this!

British & Irish Lions

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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