Red-train Lions will be hard to handle: Jones
May 4, 2013
Classy wing George North will test the Wallabies defence © Getty Images
Former Wallabies coach Eddie Jones believes the British & Irish Lions pose a physical threat to the Wallabies, with Warren Gatland's squad containing hard-working, muscular players who will give no quarter.
Jones says the Lions have the Gatland feel stamped all over them with their same-way collision attack, line speed in defence and the ability to play a big 80 minutes.
"The Wallabies can see the red train coming but handling it is now the challenge," Jones said in his The Courier Mail column. "The Lions will field an exceptional back three in the first Test at Suncorp Stadium on June 22 with pace and size in George North (109kg) and Alex Cuthbert (108kg) plus the skill of Leigh Halfpenny. The classy North will be a real handful for the smaller Aussie backs. In the centres, Manu Tuilagi and Jamie Roberts are both man mountains at around 110kg. Both are quick but non-passers.
"The Aussie defence will have a gain-line challenge, not a deception challenge. Between Jonny Sexton and Owen Farrell, the Lions can play a running or kicking game from fly-half. Farrell was very poor in the European Cup semi-final for Saracens last weekend when he seemed more interested in the rivalry with Jonny Wilkinson than the game. He is still learning at 21.
"Mike Phillips, the monster Welsh half-back with the monster mouth, continues the physical presence. The Welsh pair of captain Sam Warburton and Toby Faletau are standouts in the back row. Warburton is hard on the ball and Faletau possesses a nice step not dissimilar to the great Toutai Kefu. Sean O'Brien, the Irish flanker, was massive against the Wallabies in the upset at the 2011 World Cup so I see this trio ensuring the breakdown contest is relentless.
Jones, however, says the Wallabies may hold the edge with line-outs although the tourists' scrum will be hard to handle.
"Lock is a position where I feel the Lions are a little lacking," he said. "The great Paul O'Connell is fading. He may have one great Test in him but three on successive weekends will be difficult. Richie Gray, the Scottish lock, is athletic and scrapes the sky at 2.08m and will endure the conditions in Australia. When paired with average Test hookers in Dylan Hartley, Richard Hibbard and Tom Youngs, the line-out may be the most vulnerable area for the tourists.
"The Lions scrum will be strong with Leicester prop Dan Cole handy at tight-head. Mako Vunipola, at loose-head prop, has world-class running skills. He has improvements still to make in scrummaging but his selection shows that Gatland has handpicked for Australian conditions.
"The Lions will field a big, physical team packed with aggression but lacking in finesse. The Wallabies can win the key line-out battle so the kicking game will be vital. The line-out leader will be all-important so New South Wales Waratahs flanker Dave Dennis may be one of the first guys picked."
© ESPN Australia / New Zealand
As Ewen McKenzie exits stage left, the ARU remains under huge pressure, with CEO Bill Pulver feeling the brunt of Australian rugby's displeasure, Greg Growden writes
The latest Week in Pictures takes in the remarkable events in Brisbane and the first round of the European Rugby Champions Cup
Following Saturday's shock announcement, we look at the highs and the lows of Ewen McKenzie's brief stint as Wallabies coach.
"I think the work I do in defence gets spoken of a little too much as it comes at the expense of what I do in attack." Brad Barritt talks to Tom Hamilton