With one game still to go before the commencement of the British and Irish Lions’ test series against Australia on Saturday, the Test team is beginning to take shape. However, there are still a number of difficult selection decisions for Warren Gatland to make.
The match against the Combined Country XV was seen as more of an opportunity to experiment with team selection and the team that comprised of several semi-professionals and inexperienced Super Rugby players was never expected to present a serious challenge to the cream of Britain and Ireland. The first half was an exhibition of ruthless finishing and deft handling. The pick of the tries was a length of the field effort instigated by the New Zealand born Sean Maitland and scored by George North, whose influential performances have all but assured him of one of the wing berths in the Test team, assuming he recovers from the injury he sustained before half time. The second half was a more muted affair, although the tourists still managed to score four more tries. It was pleasing, if surprising, that a ten try to nil win was described as ‘flat’ by captain Brian O’Driscoll, as it is indicative that this squad has the optimum frame of mind to take into the Test series.
Playing in the Allianz stadium on Saturday against a Waratah team that was brimming with young talent and potential future Wallabies such as Cam Crawford, Bernard Foley and a pair of players released by Robbie Deans for the match, the Lions produced their best performance of the Tour. Sam Warburton was vastly improved compared to his first outing against the Reds, solving a potentially problematic selection issue in the back row.
The argument for having the back row that started this match as the one that starts the first Test was given credence, as the Lions managed to turn the provincial side over fourteen times. Tom Croft scored a try reminiscent of his effort against France in the 2012 Six Nations, as he accelerated past the Waratah’s backline from thirty metres out. One potential dilemma is the injury sustained by Jamie Roberts in the seventy-third minute, as he has rightly been considered the obvious choice at twelve for the Lions in the Tests. However his Welsh colleague Jon Davies had an imperious impact on the Lions’ performance. Three assists, an interception and a try are impressive statistics, and that is before his defensive efforts are mentioned.
The Llanelli Scarlet has definitely done his chances of making the Test team no harm. The forwards looked assured in attack and defence, with Alun Wyn-Jones and Paul O’Connell producing outstanding contributions and providing inspirational leadership. Looking forward, the Lions have one more match before the First Test, and Warren Gatland is adamant that no final decisions will be made until he has seen how the team picked perform on Tuesday.
The competition for places in the Lions squad is higher than it has been for a long time so the Test team could reveal a couple of surprises.