By Alan Dymock
WHEN MIND games start it is hard to know which tact to take. Overuse of saccharine sweet compliments, describe the opposition as clueless or just call everyone cheats? Well, when it comes to Australia versus the British and Irish Lions we could get seven different shades of sledging, particularly after the Brumbies scalped them.
However, when Adam Ashley-Cooper – a man that teammate Benn Robinson tells Rugby World was the down-to-earth spitfire who keeps everyone humble – compliments Brian O’Driscoll, it could be out of deep, masculine, mutual respect.
“He’s an absolute freak and I’m looking forward to lining up against him for the first time,” Ashley-Cooper told Press Association.
Ashley-Cooper goes on to say that O’Driscoll still has the spritz that saw him fizz through Australian defences 12 years ago and clearly the admiration is there. Nevertheless, lurking in the background is that hint of ulterior motive. When he said: “I haven’t seen a northern hemisphere side be as expansive as these Lions have been for a while,” there is a sense that he is trying to force Lions’ hands for the sake of his Wallabies.
“Their ability to spread the ball has been quite impressive. They’ve come out with a very physical and confrontational approach to the start of the game and then have that ability to throw the ball wide.”
Expansive and physical? Bearing in mind the Lions created no space at all against the Brumbies, AAC is blowing hot and cold.
There are several messages here, but the essence is that he expects and wants the Lions to hit round the corner several times and spin it wide, as Wales do and as the Wallabies have grown accustomed to. Throwing cut-out passes wide earlier and throwing the ball in behind an in-drifting player from the 13 channel to an inside centre when the defence is stacked is also something the Lions have done since game one.
Against the Waratahs the Lions hinted at a drive from the lineout, were it ever thrown accurately. They did the same against the Brumbies on Tuesday, though there were more wayward throws to contend with. The Wallabies now have glimpses of what they should expect from the Lions and if they can cajole them into playing nearer their game plans it helps.
Ashley-Cooper may not be deliberately talking to this end, but he can only explain what he knows or what has been made evident to him. Twin this with the continued Lions capitulation at the lineout and the aerial abilities of the Aussie back three and it certainly suits the Wallabies for the Lions to put the ball through O’Driscoll’s hands often.
The reactionary thing Warren Gatland could do after the loss to the Brumbies is to retreat back into his shell and play the tactics he is most comfortable with and Australia are prepared for.