New-look Lions set for final warm-up clash
June 17, 2013
Lions newcomers Christian Wade, Shane Williams and Brad Barritt have been thrown straight into action in Canberra © Getty Images
A mind-boggling British & Irish Lions line-up will tackle the Brumbies in Canberra on Tuesday night with the eagerly-awaited first Test against Australia just a few days away.
Injuries and a suspension have plagued the Lions' plans for their showdown with the Wallabies and as a result six players who were not in the original squad will start their latest tour outing - with another two on the bench. There is no doubt as to the most eye-catching addition - former Wales and Lions winger Shane Williams - who has been plucked from the ranks of the media for one final run out in the famous red shirt of the Lions.
Coach Warren Gatland is clearly keen to avoid any more casualties, with the likes of centre Jamie Roberts and wingers George North and Tommy Bowe also carrying injuries that will limit their contribution to Saturday's first Test and beyond, but at the same time he will be wary of the need to maintain the momentum generated by five straight victories to date - with their most recent success coming against the Waratahs last Saturday.
Standing in their way in Canberra is a Brumbies side that has out-performed all of their Australian Super Rugby rivals this season and who have already booked their place in the play-offs and cemented their place at the top of their conference with a mauling of the Rebels in their latest clash. But they will be without their Wallabies for the latest visit of the Lions so a brush with victory similar to that in 2001 looks highly unlikely.
Brumbies - Player to Watch: Former Wallabies international Clyde Rathbone launched a sensational comeback this season having prematurely called time on his career in 2009 following a run of injuries and has since revealed a long battle with depression. His experience could be pivotal to a Brumbies side stripped of their front line stars.
Brumbies - Team News: The Brumbies are missing Wallabies Ben Mowen, Pat McCabe, Ben Alexander, Christian Lealiifano, Stephen Moore and Joe Tomane while No.9 Nic White is out with a shoulder injury. However, they have been bolstered by the inclusion of Wallabies squad members - No.8 Peter Kimlin and prop Scott Sio. Andrew Smith returns from a hamstring strain at inside-centre while Ian Prior replaces the injured White at scrum-half. Canberra club player Chris Cocca is in line to make his Brumbies debut off the bench as is fellow prop Jean-Pierre Smith.
British & Irish Lions - Player to Watch: Shane Williams who scored a record 58 tries during an 87-Test career for Wales and toured with the Lions in 2005 and 2009, was only due to be in Australia as a radio summariser but has been thrust back into the spotlight by coach Warren Gatland - he has still been playing in Japan but will he be up to the task?
British & Irish Lions - Team News: The return of Williams to a Lions shirt was understandably the headline selection but there are also tour bows for fellow squad additions - winger Christian Wade and centres Brad Barritt and Billy Twelvetrees. Elsewhere, hooker Rory Best will captain the team and will pack down alongside Ryan Grant and Matt Stevens. Richie Gray and Ian Evans link up in the locks with Sean O'Brien, Justin Tipuric and Toby Faletau lining up in the back-row. Stuart Hogg and Ben Youngs form the half-back pairing with Rob Kearney completing the starting XV at fullback.
Key Battle: Brumbies openside Colby Faingaa has emerged from the shadow of the injured David Pocock and George Smith in recent weeks and will be keen to underline his credentials and show his employers what they will be missing when he heads to the Rebels next season. But he is unlikely to get everything his own way at the breakdown with in-form Lions flanker Justin Tipuric no doubt desperate to give his coach reason to ponder before he inks in his No.7 for the first Test against the Wallabies.
Trivia: The Lions claimed a last-gasp 30-28 victory over the Brumbies on their last visit to Canberra in 2001 thanks largely to the efforts of England duo Austin Healey and Matt Dawson who notched 25 of the tourists' points.
Stats: The surprise call-up for former Wales and Lions international Shane Williams took the number of additions to the original Lions squad to a record-equalling eight with Rory Best, Alex Corbisiero, Ryan Grant, Billy Twelvetrees, Simon Zebo, Christian Wade and Brad Barritt already drafted in. Warren Gatland's squad has now matched the 1980 tour to South Africa when Andy Irvine, Paul Dodge, John Robbie, Steve Smith, Tony Ward, Phil Orr, Ian Stephens and Gareth Williams all got a late call.
Betting: Shane Williams is a very attractive 8/1 with Bet365 to cap a dream comeback with the opening try against the Brumbies. And how about Christian Wade to set the seal on a win with the last try at 7/1?
"I have played enough professional and international level games to know what to expect tomorrow and if I felt for one second I wasn't going to be ready or good enough I would have told Rob Howley where to stick it."
"We know how dangerous he (Shane Williams) is and it's not too bad when you can call a guy who's come to do some radio work to come and play for you and he's got 60-something Test tries. That really highlights just how good he was."
Prediction: The Brumbies may be the leading Australian Super Rugby side but without their stars they will struggle to match the power, pace and intensity of the Lions - despite their new-look line-up.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.
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