By Sarah Mockford, Rugby World Features Editor in Melbourne
WHAT A few days it’s been. The stories have been coming so thick and fast since the Lions’ first-Test win over Australia my head feels a little like a spinning top! From boots to babies and brushes with the law to body blows, here’s a quick wrap-up of events Down Under…
The match itself had everything – apart from a contest at the breakdown! There were some brilliant tries, Israel Folau looking immediately at home on the Test rugby stage and George North producing a spectacular effort. There were big hits and big injuries too – Michael Hooper having to switch from openside to inside-centre early in the second half and doing a decent job. He’s since said: “I’d have loved another 40 minutes there to have another crack. It was really enjoyable.”
The same could not be said for the refereeing. Chris Pollock’s policy may produce plenty of quick ball for the attacking side, but allowing defenders to compete for possession at the tackle area is a key facet of the game, one that was missing on Saturday night.
To hear that Brian O’Driscoll and Sam Warburton – two men who have a taste for winning turnovers – stopped competing on the deck for fear of receiving a yellow card is disquieting. Yes, we want quick ball but we also want a contest at the breakdown. It’s over to Craig Joubert this Saturday – hopefully he’ll let players have a go.
Kurtley Beale might be shopping for some new boots this week. His last-minute slip cost Australia victory at Suncorp Stadium and Warren Gatland has been critical of the Wallaby’s choice of molded boots given the damp conditions. Perhaps there are too many ‘studs’ – in their own eyes at least – in the Australia squad for there to be room for any more on boots. David Campese has said that the current crop care more about how they look than how they play!
Geoff Parling’s had quite a week. His wife Elle gave birth to their daughter May by C-section last Thursday – he wanted to watch it live via Skype but was promptly switched off by the midwife! – then he won his first Lions cap when coming off the bench in Brisbane and a day later was named captain of the side to face Melbourne Rebels.
His reign was short-lived, however. News of Paul O’Connell’s arm injury meant Parling was pulled from that fixture, Ian Evans replacing him in the engine room and Dan Lydiate stepping in as skipper. Now Parling’s poised to be involved in the second Test from the off, although even the Wallabies recognise the huge hole O’Connell leaves – and not in a literal sense. Hooper says: “There’ll have a person just as qualified skills-wise to step up, but it’s a loss for them in terms of what he brings to the squad emotionally.”
Parling probably still can’t match Digby Ioane on the drama stakes, though. A warrant was issued for the winger’s arrest after he failed to appear in court on an assault charge on Monday. The following day he did turn up and has been bailed until his court appearance in August. He’s also tweeted: “Love media. Keep talking! God will always have my back.” Perhaps he should look at it another way, though: if players avoided trouble in the first place, the media wouldn’t have anything to write about.
Even with all that, I haven’t mentioned James Horwill escaping a ban for stamping on Alun Wyn Jones. Best I don’t either – not sure I can be balanced on him apparently being off-balance!