Forever could be only 80 minutes away as Lions regroup for Melbourne Test
Victory in Brisbane Test comes at a price as Lions await word on Paul O’Connell (below) arm injury
Rob Horne or Tapuai could replace Ashley-Cooper, with Luke Morahan perhaps coming onto the wing for Ioane.
The expectation also is Christian Leali’ifano (concussion) will be fit to win his second cap and assume the goal-kicking duties after O’Connor and Beale missed 14 points between them.
“Potentially they will have a bit more fire-power with some players they might have to enter the squad,” said Warren Gatland who has, mischievously, twice speculated as to whether Quade Cooper might be called up (knowing full he won’t be).
The Lions are in relatively rude health, and have been emboldened by the return to fitness of Tommy Bowe and Manu Tuilagi, who starts against the Rebels tomorrow, while Jamie Roberts might yet feature.
They still have the Rebels game to negotiate, for which Gatland is starting six of Saturday’s bench, with Dan Lydiate and Seán O’Brien perhaps in a straight shoot-out for a place in the second Test squad.
“I don’t think there’s going to be any amount of complacency at all,” said Gatland of a week that could be career-defining, never mind tour-defining.
“I think these players are well aware they’ve got an opportunity to create their own history.”
For the Lions to be successful next Saturday and clinch a first series win since 1997, Gatland accepted the performance would need to be a little more accurate.
“Our lineout was excellent, the scrum brilliant in the first half, and then not as good in the second half.
“ A couple of guys that came off the bench were disappointed with the way the scrum went. In terms of the execution, it was a bit tough.”
“We went out there and probably played, ironically, a bit too much rugby in our own half and around halfway in the first half. But then physically, we felt in pretty good shape.
“ It’s that catch-22 – do you carry on playing rugby and try and wear the opposition down or do you be a bit smarter in the way you play and play a bit more territory?
“We probably need to look at our game management a bit and make sure we are a bit smarter in that going into next week.”
The Lions head coach re-iterated his valid concerns about Chris Pollock’s inconsistent interpretations, and would seek clarification on some of the seven penalties against the tourists at the breakdown, as well as other incidents in lob-sided 12-7 penalty count, while he is evidently happier about the prospect of Craig Joubert being in charge next Saturday.
“Craig Joubert is a very experienced referee. We’ll put last night behind us and it will probably be good for him having been an assistant referee in that match, on the sideline, to know about the pace of the game.
“I thought he was good in terms of the support he gave the referee and I’m looking forward to the number one referee in the world doing next Saturday,” he ventured, pointedly.