Lions on brink of historic triumph
June 28, 2013
Can the Lions and Australia servve up another thrilling contest in Melbourne? © Getty Images
The British & Irish Lions will be hoping to complete a series victory over Australia when the two sides go head-to-head in the second Test in Melbourne on Saturday night.
The Lions claimed a priceless 23-21 first Test victory in Brisbane last weekend and know a similar result at the Etihad Stadium would secure a first series victory since 1997 and a first over the Wallabies since 1989. Australia must win to keep their hopes of taking the series alive with the third and final Test scheduled for Sydney on July 6.
The Lions rode their luck in Brisbane where Australia pushed them all the way only for injuries and a crucial slip from fullback Kurtley Beale as he attempted what would have been a match-winning penalty to deny them a famous Test triumph. The on-going saga surrounding the citing of captain James Horwill will have not helped their preparation for this game but they will enter this re-match confident they have the beating of the Lions - they just need some good fortune.
The opening clash between these sides produced some of the most thrilling rugby of recent memory - with two outstanding tries - and another intense and closely-fought battle is expected this time around. But the game may not be as easy on the eye with Lions boss Warren Gatland insisting that he is happy for his side to win 'ugly' - as long as they get the job done. His Wallabies counterpart Robbie Deans will also no doubt accept a win of any kind with not only the series but his long-term job prospects hinging on the result.
Australia - Player to Watch: Kurtley Beale has hogged the headlines for the wrong reasons of late thanks to a costly last-gasp slip in the first Test and a subsequent late night fast food fix. Can he re-build his reputation with a dazzling display in Melbourne and silence his doubters?
Australia - Team News: Wallabies coach Robbie Deans has been forced to make two changes with injuries to fullback Berrick Barnes (head) and winger Digby Ioane (shoulder) prompting the promotion of Kurtley Beale and Joe Tomane with the latter set to win only his second cap. Centre Christian Lealiifano has recovered from the head knock that sidelined him in the opening moments of the first Test while James O'Connor retains the No.10 shirt despite widespread criticism of his showing in Brisbane. Centre Rob Horne and uncapped fullback Jesse Mogg have both been added to the bench.
British & Irish Lions - Player to Watch: The Wallabies are set to throw everything except the kitchen sink at the Lions and flanker Dan Lydiate has been tasked with shackling the hosts and denying them any momentum. Expect his tackle count to go stratospheric.
British & Irish Lions - Team News: Lions coach Warren Gatland has made five changes to his side - two forced by injuries to lock Paul O'Connell and prop Alex Corbisiero. As a result, Geoff Parling comes in the second row and Mako Vunipola will pack down at loose-head. There is also a promotion from the bench for blindside Dan Lydiate while winger Tommy Bowe and scrum-half Ben Youngs have also got the nod. Flanker Tom Croft drops to the bench as does winger Alex Cuthbert but No.9 Mike Phillips drops out of the squad with Conor Murray providing cover. Ryan Grant fills the void on the bench left by Vunipola while there is also room for versatile back-row Sean O'Brien.
Key Battle: Ben Youngs has been handed the chance to impress in the Lions' No.9 shirt but is set to go up against arguably the best scrum-half in the world - and maybe the most influential player - in the form of Australia's Will Genia. Both boast game-breaking ability in abundance and will be keen to dictate the pace of the game but they will be heavily reliant on their respective forward packs.
Trivia: Brian O'Driscoll will make his 8th Test appearance for the Lions on Saturday night and in doing so will move joint 6th in the list of most-capped Lions players of all-time. Will John McBride holds the record with 17 across five tours.
Stats: In the second Test clash in Melbourne 12 years ago, the Wallabies fought back from an 11-6 half-time deficit to claim a 35-14 victory and level the series. Two tries in a matter of minutes from winger Joe Roff proved the key with the boot of fullback Matt Burke steering the hosts home.
Betting: Fancy Kurtley Beale to put his first Test shocker behind him? Bet365 are offering 14/1 for Wallabies fullback to grab the opening try of the game. Maybe you think Lions winger George North will continue his rich vein of form with the first try and the Lions will claim a narrow win - that will pay 35/1.
"It's going to be a ripper!"
"If there is one player who deserves it more than anyone else it is Brian O'Driscoll. He has been fantastic northern hemisphere rugby and for world rugby."
Prediction: Another nail-biting contest will see the wounded Wallabies edge out the Lions and set up a mouth-watering, winner-takes-all clash in Sydney.
Former Wallabies captain George Gregan and ex-Lion Gavin Hastings preview the second Test
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.
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