Lions identify Will Genia as the big threat as Tommy Bowe makes welcome return
Lions have little option but to go with their fourth-choice loosehead in Mako Vunipola, and Geoff Parling for their sorely missed enforcer Paul O’Connell
Tommy Bowe training with the Lions’ squad yesterday. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Will Genia. Will Genia. Will Genia. It was the Irish mantra devised as a key part of the tactical masterplan for stopping the Wallabies in the World Cup at Eden Park, and having nearly witnessed the little maestro sucker-punch them in the first Test, there has been a relatively radical overhaul to the Lions’ line-up for Saturday’s second Test.
One game away from securing a first Lions Test series win since 1997, the Lions have evidently identified Genia as potentially their tormentor in chief, something they failed to do sufficiently in the first Test. Israel Folau may have landed two tries on his debut, but if it wasn’t for the genius of Genia, the winger wouldn’t have been afforded either opportunity in the first place.
The Lions had little option but to go with their fourth-choice loosehead in Mako Vunipola (imagine, for a moment, they were down to their fourth-choice outhalf), and Geoff Parling for their sorely missed enforcer Paul O’Connell. Restoring the fit-again Tommy Bowe, even though Alex Cuthbert took his try superbly last Saturday, also makes sense.
Bowe is simply a better as well as more experienced player, one who left an indelible impression on Warren Gatland and the Lions coaching staff when playing every minute of the Test series four years ago.
“He is a massive big-game player,” said Gatland. “He played in the centre in the third Test in 2009, and he probably didn’t have his best tour, but if you watch him at training and see how seamless he is, the one thing you can’t coach is experience. Experienced players just come in and are able to slot in really quickly, and he did that on Tuesday morning. You could see the experience and quality was there, and that will give a boost to some of the other players. It was like George North being fit last week. It was a boost for the squad and the players around him.”
However, as Ireland demonstrated at Eden Park in the World Cup, if you stop Genia you go an awfully long way to stopping the Wallabies. This is why, perhaps, the tree-felling Dan Lydiate has been called up to the starting line-up while Ben Youngs replaces Mike Phillips, with Seán O’Brien called up alongside the demoted Tom Croft on the bench, as well as the promoted Conor Murray.
Even against the Rebels, who had just over 40 per cent possession, Lydiate contrived to make 15 tackles, which would be a base total for him. Somebody get that man a chainsaw? No actually, he doesn’t need one. He has been picked presumably, among other things, to help close down Genia’s roving influence from the base, like Stephen Ferris at Eden Park, and as Ben Mowen did to the out-of-sorts Phillips.
After one training session last week, O’Connell asked Lydiate for a half-hour one-on-one demonstration of his tackling technique. With the wounded Wallabies fighting for their series lives and thus likely to throw the kitchen sink at the Lions in the enclosed Etihad Stadium tomorrow (kick-off 8.05pm local time/11.05am Irish), Lydiate’s selection is a fitting, horses-for-courses pick.