British & Irish Lions 2013: Four talking points from Rebels win
British & Irish Lions 2013: Oisin Gregorian takes a look at four talking points from the 35-0 victory over the Rebels
Only Saturday will determine how much O’Connell will be missed
“O’Connell RULED OUT” roared the Sydney Morning Herald on Tuesday morning in Australia. Effectively, that’s all any Aussie needed to know. Initially, the British and Irish Lions were right to remain defiant and not rule out their lock too early in the week, but no doubt the medical staff knew the news well before official confirmation. Against the Rebels, the camera directors couldn’t help but turn to Messrs O’Connell and Alun Wyn Jones, instrumental days beforehand and a partnership cruelly broken up before it had its chance to clinch the series. For Geoff Parling, Richie Gray and Ian Evans, they will now scrap it out to become the test number five. The former is the favourite having not played this morning. None of these three match the experience and leadership that O’Connell has, but replacements in the past have stepped up to the plate – and what a time to do so for the three mentioned.
A selection of players still have a part to play…
For the fringe players, this was it; the chance to forge their way into the final two Test squads, or become training partners to the test players for the final week and a half. Last week in Canberra, it was a disaster, with only a handful of players reminding the selectors that they could be good enough to be called upon in the first Test. One week on, and with the coach ringing the changes with a solid 25 minutes left to run, it gives plenty of indication that the likes of Owen Farrell, Conor Murray and Sean O’Brien could perhaps have a bigger part to play at the Ethiad Stadium in four days’ time. Other players to note: Toby Faletau, Richard Hibbard, Manu Tuiliagi and Sean Maitland – who should be at least on the bench come Saturday.
But for some, their tour looks to be all but over…
Unfortunately, given the sizeable squad that travels on each and every Lions tour, there are players who are unable to make their mark when the series boils down to the Test matches. With only two matches remaining in the 2013 series, and no midweek match between the second and third test to allow a full week’s rest should the series head to final deciding game in Sydney at the start of July, this was to be it for some on their Lions adventure. There were hints throughout the morning as to who those players were – particularly the ones who made cameo performances in the latter stages of the game and the majority of those who were called up as cover in the last week and a half. However, Lions successes are forged on the depth of squads that rely on players like these, and for that they must be acknowledged should the Lions go on to win their first series since 1997.
Set-piece still isn’t perfect, but it’s better than nothing
Throughout the series, place-kicking has been near-perfect, the scrum has been solid but not barn-storming, and the lineout has been scrappy at best. While the Lions coaches will be satisfied with the overall improvement in the set-piece over the last couple of weeks, particularly in the lineout, there will still be worries on the eve of the second test, and oh how the Wallabies will look to capitalise on this early on. Last Saturday it took the Lions 20 minutes to settle in the set-piece, and thankfully for those concerned, they got away with it in the long run. With the Wallabies desperate to right last weekend’s wrongs, the Lions simply cannot afford a sluggish opening twenty like last weekend. That is a fact.
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