Gregan leads waltzing O'Driscoll chorus
And so, Lions fever begins. George Gregan was in London yesterday in his capacity as a HSBC ambassador. The little general behind the Wallaby pack that figured a way to beat the most famous of touring sides in 2001, two years after John Eales’ team had captured the World Cup, has already picked his starting XV for the first Test at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane on June 22nd.
It starts with Kurtley Beale at fullback; James O’Connor and Digby Ioane are the wingers; then there’s Adam Ashley-Cooper and Pat McCabe in midfield, with the mercurial Quade Cooper partnering Will Genia at halfback. Wycliff Palu, David Pocock and Scott Higginbotham make up the backrow, with James Horwill (captain) and Kane Douglas the locks, while Sekope Kepu, Stephen Moore and Ben Robinson are his frontrow.
In a relatively successful 2012, Australia beat South Africa and Argentina, drew with the All Blacks, thereby spoiling their last step towards immortality, and were only found out by France on the European tour despite a horrendous injury list.
Bolter from the blue
But Gregan’s choice won’t be the team. What always happens in a Lions year is a bolter from the blue arrives on the scene, usually from Rugby League. In 2013 it could well be Israel Folau.
Australian rugby union may have collared their answer to the phenomenon that was Sonny Bill Williams (the All Black won a World Cup and Super Rugby title before heading back to league via the usual pit-stop to collect a sack full of yen).
Folau is the latest big name to switch codes. The 23-year-old is being introduced to the nuances of union by Alan Gaffney at the New South Wales Waratahs, having tried his hand at Aussie Rules for a year.
“Israel is a household name in Australia because of his league background,” said Gregan.
“He is just an incredible athlete. It might be a bridge too far to make the Wallaby team, to understand the game in time for the Lions series, but you just never know.
“I’d have him on the wing, maybe 13, but that is a big transition, to learn the defensive lines and running lines in general, and I think he is used to being on the end of an attacking line, so wing probably, but you also have Digby and James O’Connor. That’s a good problem.”
Speaking of 13s, he thinks Brian O’Driscoll will fend off the steam train that is Manu Tuilagi. “If he’s fit and healthy I’d pick him because he is definitely motivated. He wants to come over and win a Lions series on his fourth attempt. He hasn’t won one and doesn’t want to tour and make up the numbers.”