By Alan Dymock
THE DIFFICULT second Test is coming and both teams have finalised their lineups. The Wallabies have swapped out injured players, while the British and Irish Lions have made five changes.
Warren Gatland himself said: “I don’t know about not changing a winning side; it is about picking the best team to do the job for us.” He is hinting at tactical reasons for the cutting and pasting of his team sheet. Looking back at the first Test footage, he certainly has reasons to change.
Discounting a few moments of individual brilliance by George North, the Lions could always pry more space out of the Wallabies.
However, looking at the first Test, there was an element of fear in the Australian defence whenever the Lions had a lineout in their final third. In fact, 22 minutes in, James Horwill took a captain’s decision to come into the Lions driving lineout from the side and give away a penalty. Seven minutes later, again in their own third, the Lions patiently built a drive and Michael Hooper swam through, trying to knock limbs out of the way. North almost scored a second try once that ball was recycled – he was denied by his own funny bone – but the referee was already playing advantage for the maul infringement.
Australia are scared of the driving maul.
What Australia do not fear, however, is the Lions’ sixth phase of attack. The aimless kicking of Mike Phillips was one of the reasons he has been dropped for this Test, as well as a niggling knee complaint, and Ben Youngs’ mindless hoof in the 66th minute in the first Test eventually found it’s way to Kurtley Beale who stepped inside the Lions kick chase and round Richard Hibbard who was not as fast or as close to Sam Warburton as he would have liked, and the full-back broke through. opportunities like this come when there is no momentum, the Lions rack up the phases and do not find touch.
Another example of late-phase limpness was shown in the second-half. After 63 minutes Mako Vunipola nicely evaded a no-arm tackle from Wycliff Palu before Jamie Heaslip did well to avoid hits as he slogged up the park on his own. That led to Alex Cuthbert getting the ball, but going to ground too early. Benn Robinson was penalised for getting his foot in and going for the ball when the ruck had formed, but by going to ground too early Cuthbert had ensured that the penalty kick was the only option for the Lions, rather than using much quicker ball.
This contrasted poorly with Cuthbert’s own try. It stemmed from a recycled lineout. Tom Youngs carried strongly and Alun Wyn Jones and Paul O’Connell grabbed him and fired him through tackles. With such quick ball Jonny Sexton was able to set his back line and synchronise running lines.
Brian O’Driscoll had time to run up to the defensive line incredibly flat, with a hint of inside drift. Behind him, Jonathan Davies ran a smart outside angle, heading towards the touchline and pulling defender with him. Even deeper behind Davies was Cuthbert and as he got to the defence he was able to burst through with Sexton’s pass. After that it was a race to the try-line and the winger was never going to miss out.
There were suspicions of crossing, but Cuthbert was so deep behind O’Driscoll that the try was always going to stand and he saw his way past a hapless Beale and stretching Will Genia with ease.
When the game was tight, though, it was the zip from Youngs that ensured the Lions could shift their attack while the Wallabies chased. Then Dan Lydiate was introduced and suddenly it was a case of sitting in and hoping to see the Test out.
Cuthbert has been replaced by a man with better ability to field kicks and experience at centre. This is no slight on Cuthbert who will see action from the bench in the second Test. Lydiate also starts so as to shore up the defence and allow Warren Gatland to change tact if the Lions have to chase the game. They have a reserve pack of explosives.
Meanwhile, Ben Youngs offers quicker use of ball and will be given the remit to find touch when the phases drag on.
The Lions must maintain the level of movement that led to their second try and continue to power players through the initial contact. There will be more lineouts but there will also be more need to generate quick ball from those lineouts. Staying on feet and laying ball on a plate can only improve the Lions chances of a series victory.
Check out our tactical explanation of why change was needed in defence, here.