Five things we learned...from the Brumbies clash
June 18, 2013
It's time for Lions legends such as Sir Ian McGeechan to issue a timely reminder of what it means to be able to pull on the world famous red jersey © Getty Images
The British & Irish Lions' saw their five-game unbeaten run come to an end in Canberra in Tuesday night with the Brumbies claiming a famous 14-12 victory over the elite tourists.
What did this rare defeat tell us? And what else did we learn that could impact on the Lions' chances of claiming a series victory over Australia?
The Lions have an alarming lack of depth
This result will not cause coach Warren Gatland too much concern as he clearly prioritised the opening clash with the Wallabies with his selection - but the performance of the players, especially those who were thought to be pressing for a role in the Test series, will have him fretting in the coming days. The likes of back-row trio of blindside Sean O'Brien, openside Justin Tipuric and No.8 Toby Faletau were seemingly pushing for Test recognition but were shown up by their Brumbies rivals. Fly-half Stuart Hogg was another to lose his way having appeared to have made great strides in recent weeks but no-one's Test chances plummeted as much as those of hooker Rory Best. His wayward throwing gifted possession and momentum to the Brumbies and simply fuelled their desire. His rivals Tom Youngs and Richard Hibbard can rest easy that they will line up for the Brisbane showdown.
The Lions will win the first Test
This shock defeat will serve as a wake-up call to a Lions squad that has been able to coast for much of the tour and ensure an angry and intensely focused side take to the Suncorp Stadium pitch in Brisbane on Saturday night. The on-going concerns about the fitness of key players and the fear of further injuries to an already battered squad underline the importance of the opening Test and also ensure we witness a level of intensity and commitment not yet seen on this tour. The Lions' desire will be fired by their coach Warren Gatland who will be painfully aware that defeat and yet further injury woe would serve as major body blow to his side's hopes of a series victory making victory and necessity. And they look well-placed to bounce back with a battle-hardened Lions set to have a physical edge over a Wallabies side that has been wrapped up in cotton wool for too long.
Continuity trumps celebrity
Drafting former Lions heroes and rising stars into your side at short notice may make for great copy and colour but it does not make for a great side. Veteran winger Shane Williams and rookie Christian Wade dominated the headlines in the lead up to this game but it was the Brumbies - stripped of all their big names - that dominated the contest itself. A settled Brumbies side, that may be chasing the Super Rugby crown but lacked the Test caps and experience of their illustrious rivals, triumphed in a victory for continuity over celebrity. Just as the succession of injuries suffered by the Lions was indication that the modern game demands larger squads, this scenario that saw the tourists go into a game woefully under-prepared - this side had one full training session together - hammers home the need for a complete overhaul of the logistics behind a tour. The biggest brand in the game, arguably more popular than that of the All Blacks, is being jeopardised by a restrictive calendar that does not grant time or space for a side to develop. The odds are always against them come the Test series - as they are this time around.
Time to trot out the legends
Maybe it was the cold? Or perhaps the players' unfamiliarity with each other? But there was a distinct lack of intensity from the those players masquerading as Lions today and it appears they may have forgotten how privileged they are to be able to pull on the world famous red jersey. Some famous old face are sure to make an appearance in the Lions' camp ahead of the first Test to remind the players of their position and the chance to make history that has been laid before them and by the looks of it, some are in real need of wake-up call to rival that handed down by the Brumbies. Team management could perhaps request copies of some of the countless promos produced to publicise the tour that feature great names from the past talking about how special it is to be part of the Lions - but you suspect they will go one better and line up a host legends to address the squad - McGeehcan, McBride, Johnson - you get the idea. Those trips down memory lane never fail to spark emotion and are sure to inspire anyone lacking a little incentive.
The Lions that will roar on Saturday
OK, so we don't know this for sure - but following the final warm-up clash and the latest injury updates, there can be little doubt about the bulk of the Lions' side that will line up for the first Test this weekend. Injuries to certain players, the agonising delay in the return to full fitness of others and form, the most influential selection factor, have dictated that the following team will most likely go in search of victory in Brisbane.
15. Leigh Halfpenny; 14. Alex Cuthbert, 13. Brian O'Driscoll, 12. Jonathan Davies, 11. George North; 10. Jonathan Sexton, 9. Mike Phillps, 1. Mako Vunipola, 2. Richard Hibbard, 3. Adam Jones, 4. Alun Wyn Jones, 5. Paul O'Connell, 6. Tom Croft, 7. Sam Warburton (c), 8. Jamie Heaslip
Replacements: 16. Tom Youngs, 17. Alex Corbisiero, 18. Dan Cole, 19. Geoff Parling, 20. Sean O'Brien, 21. Conor Murray, 22. Own Farrell, 23. Stuart Hogg
The assurance offered by Owen Farrell was one of the few highlights of the Lions' latest showing in Canberra © PA Photos
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.
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