ACT Brumbies out to make most of free shot at Lions in Canberra
Host side not fully loaded but victory would boost coach Jake White’s chances of succeeding Robbie Deans as Wallabies head coach
Shane Williams, Christian Wade and assistant coach Andy Farrell during as the Lions’ training session at North Sydney Oval. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
The opening tour match in Perth collided with game one in the State of Origin. This one clashes directly with the Socceroos’ attempt to reach their third successive World Cup finals by beating Iraq in front of a capacity 82,000 in Sydney’s ANZ Stadium.
The Lions were welcomed by the Irish Ambassador yesterday to Canberra which, as the seat of government, is abuzz with the crisis enveloping Julia Gillard and her Labor government that is lagging 14 points behind the opposition coalition ahead of September’s general election.
The last midweek match five days before the start of a Lions Test series is usually a footnote in history and, with temperatures set to reach minus two tonight, not unreasonably, Warren Gatland has opted to prioritise next Saturday’s first Test by leaving the Lions at their most vulnerable point of the tour.
As with the Reds and the Waratahs for their part, the Brumbies are not fully loaded.
Yet they have been lurking in the long grass and would love to become the first team to topple the tourists, not least as akin to the Reds’ Ewen McKenzie, it would strengthen Jake White’s candidature to succeed Robbie Deans as Wallabies head coach.
Despite missing five of the Wallabies’ squad, and another seven injured – including David Pocock, George Smith and now scrumhalf Nic White – all but three of this starting XV cemented the Brumbies’ place atop the Super 15 standings with a 37-19 win over the Melbourne Rebels here 11 days ago.
That bonus point win secured their place in the play-offs and now they have something of a free shot at an historic first win over the Lions – who won the corresponding fixture 12 years ago with Matt Dawson’s conversion in overtime.
“When the Springboks got to the World Cup final we had 649 Test caps and that day it was the most capped Springbok team and most capped rugby union team of all time,” said White at pitchside yesterday evening.
580 Test caps
“Even though they’ve flown a guy like Shane Williams across from Japan and even though they’ve got Brad Barritt coming in late, there are still 580 Test caps there.
“We’ve got Peter Kimlin with two and Clyde (Rathbone) with 26 so we’ve got 28 Test caps in our squad. It puts things in perspective. It’s a massive task for us but maybe it’s a great way to create a bit of folklore.”
The Brumbies are on the verge of their first appearance in the Super rugby semi-finals since 2004 thanks in the main to an efficient game in which they seek to play territory through the boot from their own half, and then punch it up before going wide, along with an aggressive defence.