Wallabies won't yet be quivering
June 6, 2013
Jamie Heaslip produced a big game in Perth © PA Photos
When Western Samoa defeated Wales at Rugby World Cup 1991, the gag-line was: 'What would have happened if Wales had played all of Samoa?" So the obvious question after the British & Irish Lions beat a depleted Western Force line-up is: "What would have happened if the Lions had played all of the Force?" Hate to say it, but the answer is pretty similar to what occurred in Perth on Wednesday night. The victory would still have been considerable.
And for all those moaning about how Australian rugby has embarrassed the Lions by allowing the provinces to field weakened teams, it should be remembered that the Force are probably not the side to use as an example. Western Australia is hardly a haven for Test stars, and, despite the numerous changes, many of their most combative performers were still running around against the Lions - in particular Matt Hodgson, Richard Brown and the ultimate scrapper of all, Brett Sheehan. As expected, those who wore the Force jersey refused to cringe, constantly reminding the Lions of their presence. As with numerous Super Rugby performances this season, which have resulted in telling losses, the Force's inability to finish and their propensity to get flustered too easily worked against them.
The Force's argument that this Australian tour opener should have been played last Saturday, instead of the Hong Kong junket, also has merit. Lacking merit was Sir Clive Woodward's withering rant about how the Force treated the Lions with "contempt" by fielding a weakened line-up; poor Sir Clive is clearly suffering from memory loss, and Force coach Michael Foley had every right to label him a hypocrite after Woodward led a substandard England team to Australia in 1998, when the tourists were thrashed 76-0 in Brisbane. Then Australian Rugby Union chairman Dick McGruther seethed when England announced a touring squad missing 14 Test players and including 16 uncapped rookies, describing it as "the greatest English sell-out since Gallipoli…. but we'll welcome them to their fatal landing here". And the day before the Brisbane Test, one of the England coaching staff admitted at a media conference that his players were "shit-scared".
Greg Growden and Russell Barwick discuss the big issues%]
The Force weren't that, at least providing some resistance, with Sheehan leading the way by antagonising any Lions player who went within a metre of him. They also succeeded in showing the Lions still have some way to go at set-piece time, while their scrum-half Conor Murray was well off the pace. The Lions scrum was only adequate and their lineout work was at times shaky; it improved as the game progressed, but was hardly the performance to have the Wallabies quivering about being out-jumped and pushed off the park.
At least the Wallabies now know for certain who will be their opposing Test No.10 and goal kicker. Jonathan Sexton was sometimes perched so far back in attack that he could have been sitting with a blanket over his knees in the front row of the Subiaco Oval grandstand, but still he controlled the backline with efficiency. Owen Farrell reminded all of his existence with a late cameo appearance in Perth, but his faltering effort in Hong Kong will work against him. And Leigh Halfpenny will be in the Test line-up, either at fullback or on a wing, after his exceptional kicking performance - not just hitting them from everywhere, but pounding them straight through the uprights. Eleven out of eleven, many of them tricky; oh wouldn't the Wallabies love a Halfpenny to take the pressure goal kicks.
Now let's just hope Sir Clive is delighted that Queensland Reds have decided to field 12 Wallabies in their "weakened" squad to play the Lions on Saturday night. After all, 15 years on, you don't want Brisbane to again be the venue for contemptible behaviour.
Tom Hamilton and Alex Broun discuss the Lions' efforts in Perth
© ESPN Australia / New Zealand