British & Irish Lions 2013: Lessons as Warburton silences his critics

British & Irish Lions 2013: Oisín Gregorian takes a look at five talking points from the tourists' win against the Waratahs

Waratahs
17
Lions
47

Warburton silences the doubters

Warren Gatland talked up his captain pre-game; making the point that no player, not even his captain, was untouchable on tour. Perhaps it was mind games; perhaps it was a call to Warburton to prove just why he was chosen as tour captain. In being given another 80 minute run out, Warburton was given all the time he needed to state his case, and following a further solid display at the breakdown and at the loose, his starting position seems to be a shut in case for the tour captain. While this may come as an unfortunate blow to his compatriot Dan Lydiate, arguably the in-form player at seven, there may still be hope at six, but Lydiate’s predicament remains testament as to just how good one must be to be given a test start for the Lions.

Combinations are forming, but remain incomplete throughout the XV

Squad selections with just a week to go have often given an indication to the XV that will start the first Test. For Gatland in 2013, while there were certainly hints in the coach’s selection in certain departments on Saturday morning, a full 15 to face the Wallabies next weekend remains incomplete. Based on previous selections, it appears the panel looks set in the tight five; half backs and centre pairings – with the rest of the squad, including the crucial, competitive back row remaining up in the air. Expect positions to be up for grabs right up until the very last training session late next week.

Quick turnaround from Zebo provides Gatland further depth

Considering just where exactly Simon Zebo was in the world this time last week, this was a hugely impressive performance against the Waratahs. Unfortunate to be denied by the brilliant Drew Mitchell in the opening minute, he wasn’t to let this get the best of him for the further 79 minutes. The coaching staff must now decide whether or not to play Zebo in midweek given the fitness situation of some his back three candidates. But should this be the case, a role as an impact sub in the opening test will still remain a remarkable turnaround.

Halfpenny the pressure absorber

For the second game running between the pair, Leigh Halfpenny was favoured to Jonathan Sexton for place kicking – and such a decision by the kicking coaches could just prove to be inspired. Relieved of his place kicking duties that can be indifferent at times, Sexton has been allowed to simply focus on his distribution, defence and kicking from hand – which are arguably his main strengths and his backline have complimented this fully in return. This chemistry needs to work next weekend for the Lions to have any chance.

Mind the counter attack

While the score line and overall performance from the Lions will put them in excellent stead for next week momentum-wise, Gatland and his coaching team know full well that that an solid overall performance against the ‘tahs won’t mean guaranteed success against the Wallabies. There were moments that the opposition that provided Gatland some food for thought. In the breakdown and in particular the quick, wide Southern hemisphere-style counter attack, the Lions appeared overwhelmed on a number of occasions. These are areas that will need tending in the next week, lest to avoid an avoidable punishment next weekend.

You can follow Oisín on Twitter @Oisgreg

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