Lions to leave it late
Our David Gee previews Saturday's first Test between the British & Irish Lions and Australia at Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium.
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All eyes will be on the Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane on Saturday morning (or evening if you live down under) as the British & Irish Lions take on Australia in the first of the three Test series.
Coach Warren Gatland will know all too well that their defeat at the hands of the Brumbies wouldn't have been the best preparation for the first Test but at the same time, he was in a philosophical mood following that match calling it a 'wake-up call' for his players.
The Lions have gone from looking very sharp and putting in a huge performance against the Waratahs to looking a little indecisive and fractured against the Brumbies a couple of days ago. While this might have set the alarm bells ringing back home, I don't think Gatland and his squad will be too worried about this defeat but it has certainly given them food for thought ahead of Saturday's encounter.
Without wanting to trivialise their performance against the Brumbies, there were some pretty glaring errors which caused their defeat. The forwards were the main culprits as Brumbies coach Jake White clearly got his side to perform the basics right and the Lions were second best at both the scrum and the line out. If Gatland can get his side to work on these areas, then there should be no repeat of the sort of mistakes that cost the Lions the match.
Gatland's side lost plenty of line outs and scrums against the Brumbies yet only lost by a couple of points which clearly shows there is nothing wrong with their creativity but it is in the engine room where a match is frequently won and lost and if the Lions are giving away possession, then they are highly unlikely to be able to win this match.
By the time the cavalry arrived off the Lions bench against the Brumbies, it was all too late to save the game but the cavalry will be firmly in place from the start against the Wallabies in Brisbane and if the front eight can assert their authority early on in the game, then Gatland's men could make the perfect start to the series.
The need for forward dominance could easily have been on Gatland's mind when he named Alex Corbisiero at prop ahead of Mako Vunipola, citing his superior scrummaging ability despite the fact that he was a late arrival into the Lions squad.
Vunipola had been expected to feature at loose-head prop on Saturday after impressing during his four starts on tour, but he lost out to his England rival. Conversely, Corbisiero had to be re-routed from England's tour of Argentina after Cian Healy and Gethin Jenkins were forced home through injury, and has started only one match so far.
However, Gatland is convinced that he is a safer option to start against the Wallabies with Vunipola providing second-half firepower from the bench.
Apart from the inclusion of Corbisiero, the starting XV was as expected, although a surprise name on the bench is Wales blindside Dan Lydiate as both Toby Faletau or Sean O'Brien were expected to offer back-row cover ahead of the Welshman.
George North starts on the wing after passing a fitness test on his hamstring injury, with compatriot Alex Cuthbert on the other side in the absence of Tommy Bowe, who is recovering from hand surgery.
Wales' Sam Warburton leads the side from openside flanker with Paul O'Connell and Alun-Wyn Jones picked in the second row. Jonathan Sexton and Mike Phillips are the preferred half-backs which should come as no surprise to the majority of Lions fans.
Australia have picked James O'Connor at fly-half for the opening Test with Kurtley Beale included on the bench. The starting XV picked by coach Robbie Deans features three debutants in full-back Israel Folau, flanker Ben Mowen and inside centre Christian Lealiifano.
Will Genia and the selection of Adam Ashley-Cooper were the two certainties in the Wallaby backline, with the presence of Lealiifano one of the main talking points in the build-up to the team announcement by the Wallabies.
On paper, the Lions side looks stronger than that of Australia but the mid-week match against the Brumbies has highlighted some weaknesses in Gatland's squad and it is these that Deans will be looking to exploit.
However, I fully expect the Lions to put in a much better performance up front on Saturday than they did against the Brumbies and although there has been a little bit of money for the Wallabies ahead of this game, I'm of the opinion that the Lions rate a decent bet giving up just three points to the hosts.
I've no doubt that this game will be tight for the majority of the 80 minutes but the Lions have a stronger bench and this could easily make the difference in the last ten minutes. Expect there to be nothing it coming into the last quarter but I expect the Lions to pull away in the last 15 minutes or so.