Five things we learned...from the Reds clash
June 9, 2013
Lions captain Sam Warburton powers towards the line © PA Photos
The British & Irish Lions' tour continued in Brisbane on Saturday night with Warren Gatland's side notching a hard-fought 22-12 victory over the Reds.
What did their latest win tell us? And what else did we learn that could impact on the Lions' chances of claiming a series victory over Australia?
North is the brightest star
George North's talent has never been in question with his power, poise and pace having long since defined him as one of the world's best players - not just wingers. His ability and versatility were there to be seen in Brisbane as he filled the void left by injured centre Manu Tuilagi and coach Warren Gatland must be praying that North does not suffer a similar fate to his other in-form winger Tommy Bowe whose tour looks set to be ended by injury. It is easy to forget he is still just 21-years-old but if he is able to ride this rich vein of form all the way to the Test series with the Wallabies then they have plenty of reason to worry. The most highly-regarded players are those who are able to deliver their best on the biggest stage and you sense that North is ready to make the step from good to great. He has an unrivalled skill set and it is only a matter of time before he eclipses the likes of Jonah Lomu, David Campese and Jason Robinson.
Wallabies will attempt to run Lions ragged
Quade Cooper may be deemed surplus to requirements by Australia coach Robbie Deans but he will still be grateful for what could be a vital pointer when it comes to the eagerly-awaited Test series with the Lions. The tempo the talented fly-half set from the opening whistle at the Suncorp Stadium caused the Lions significant problems and given its success we can expect the Wallabies to adopt a similar tactic when they go head-to-head with the Lions at the same venue in the first Test in a couple of weeks. Cooper's ingenuity in broken play was also noteworthy, laying the foundation for his side's two-try display, and although not enough to propel him back into the international ranks, it should serve as a blueprint for Deans and co in the coming weeks.
Warburton true to his word
All eyes were Lions captain Sam Warburton as he made his belated bow in Brisbane where he was under pressure to match the performances of his fellow opensides Justin Tipuric and Sean O'Brien who have already impressed on tour. Warburton has assured us all along that he welcomes the battle for his place in the Test picture and insists competition brings out the best in him and who are we to doubt him after he matched the showing of his rivals - and did so against markedly better opposition. His stats equalled those of Tipuric and O'Brien and while some may point to his failure to tackle the Reds' Luke Morahan in the lead up to his try, Warburton's contribution is best summed up by the determination that was etched across his face as he closed in on the try line with two tacklers on his back. He was denied on that occasion but he is only getting warmed up and Warburton will no doubt spearhead the Lions' quest for a long-awaited Test series victory.
Mako makes a statement of intent
The Lions may have drafted in England's Alex Corbisiero and Scotland's Ryan Grant in the wake of injuries to loose-heads Cian Healy and Gethin Jenkins but both replacements will struggle to wrestle the No.1 jersey from Mako Vunipola. So outstanding has the England international's form been in his three appearances so far he may well have had the Test spot sewn up even if Healy and Jenkins were still fit and firing. He boarded the plane Down Under as Test rookie, having only made his international debut last November, but looks like he will finish the season as one of the world's best and at the heart of the Lions' line-up. Vunipola is a force at scrum time, tackle-hungry in the loose and a beast at the breakdown, but it is perhaps his industry that will cement his selection for what is expected to be a lung-busting battle with the Wallabies. He is fast-becoming an immovable presence in the Lions' line-up - just ask Reds flanker Beau Robinson who required a stretcher after one ugly collision.
Be careful what you wish for
The Lions were desperate for a real test after one-sided victories over the Barbarians and the Western Force and that is exactly what they got in Brisbane. The Reds silenced those critics who suggested Australia did not deserve the honour of hosting the Lions if they were going to rest their best players from the build-up games and deny fans the chance to see a real contest. Stripped of their current Wallabies, the remaining Reds staged a spectacular revolt with a host of players grabbing their once in a lifetime opportunity to tackle the northern hemisphere's best with both hands. A Lions shirt clearly does not just inspire those lucky enough to wear it but also those that face it. And the brutal contest the Lions wanted came at a cost with an injury to winger Tommy Bowe who now joins props Cian Healy and Gethin Jenkins on the sidelines. How many such ferocious hit-outs - and casualties - can they weather ahead of the Test series?
Lions prop Mako Vunipola clashes heads with Reds flanker Beau Robinson © PA Photos
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.
"The loudest cheer at a rugby game, away from social media gimmicks, pumping music and pyrotechnics will always be for a try." Tom Hamilton on the Twickenham atmosphere
"The only thing that will stop this England team from becoming a great team is themselves. They need to ask themselves 'what can we be?'" The Phil Vickery column
The latest Monday Maul looks at the hectic final weekend, the Lions hangover, the superb Mike Brown and the 'selfie'
"At the crux of this England team is a lack of fear, they are not afraid to throw playbooks out of the window." Tom Hamilton reports from Twickenham