Lions won’t risk players in game against Brumbies
Gatland willing to sacrifice Canberra clash for greater gain against Wallabies
Jonny Sexton of the Lions is surounded by Waratahs players . Photoraph: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images
The announcement of the Lions team to play the ACT Brumbies tomorrow in Canberra is not as interesting in itself as the names who aren’t included – thereby signalling the likely composition of the first Test team to play the Wallabies next Saturday. As is usually the case for the final midweek game before the start of the Test series, being picked for this one looks like the shortest of straws.
Then again, you would never discount Warren Gatland from pulling a rabbit out of the hat, if not quite on the scale of hiring Shane Williams for a day, who was en route from his playing stint in Japan for his TalkSport radio duties on this tour.
Furthermore, presumptions regarding the Test XV are complicated by the raft of injuries which have afflicted the midfield and outside backs. Pending the outcome of a scan which is likely to exclude the hamstrung Jamie Roberts, Warren Gatland yesterday also admitted that George North’s tight hamstring means that “to be honest he is less than 50-50.”
North should at least be fit for the second Test on Saturday week in Melbourne, and ditto Tommy Bowe, of whom Gatland said: “At an outside chance he could be available for Saturday but what they’re saying is that in all likelihood he’ll be back training and ready and available for the second Test.”
Roberts’s injury hardens the likelihood of Jonathan Davies partnering Brian O’Driscoll in midfield outside the Mike Phillips and Jonny Sexton, with last Saturday’s starting pack all excused duty in Canberra, although one still wouldn’t rule out any of Alex Corbisiero, Richard Hibbard and Dan Lydiate from pushing their way in. Sean O’Brien’s inclusion from the start suggests he may pay for his versatility with a place on the bench on Saturday.
The Lions maintained their unbeaten run with Saturday’s 47-17 win – their biggest in 21 meetings over 125 years with the Waratahs – by largely keeping the same patterns of play. But, aside from a surprise selection, intriguingly Gatland hinted at one or two in style two.
“Potentially. We’ve made sure we haven’t shown our hand in certain things as well and that hasn’t always been easy – trying to keep a few things in the locker, that we’ve been working on in training and not showing them during games, that we’ve been planning. Hopefully we can keep them guessing in terms of what the team is going to be and what type of game we’re going to play.”