Lots of key decisions for Lions management
At least if Roberts is fit, tourists can adopt go-forward game necessary for success
If Jamie Roberts is fit for Saturday’s winner-takes-it-all series decider, the Lions will have the go-forward ball from inside centre lacking in the first two Tests. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images.
It’s hard not to believe the Lions are rapidly running out of the most important commodity of all, luck, and that had Paul O’Connell and Sam Warburton both been around for the full 80 minutes last Saturday the series would have been won. Maybe. Maybe not.
In any case, neither will be around this Saturday for the winner-takes-all final Test in Sydney.
Warburton, like O’Connell, will remain on for the rest of the week after a scan revealed a torn hamstring which could conceivably sideline him for four months.
Having fought through a knee injury on this tour to deliver a tour-de-force, leader-from-the-front performance last Saturday, primarily in defence, his body could probably have done with a break. But starting next week rather than this week would have been preferable.
In a statement, Warburton said: “It is incredibly disappointing to be ruled out of the tour through injury as we head to Sydney for the deciding match. I wish the team all the best and hope I can play some part in the build up this week. I am confident that the boys can finish the job off and secure the series win”.
Brian O’Driscoll, who inherited the captaincy for the last 13 minutes in Melbourne, looks like the only alternative to skipper the side, with Jamie Heaslip the only other Test captain left standing.
Indeed, compounding the loss of their two natural born leaders up front, even with up to three players (Jamie Roberts, Mike Phillips and Alex Corbisiero) all returning, the composition of the third Test side and replacements is open to speculation.
The intention remains to name the side tomorrow, which would mean informing the players tonight after a couple of down days, and thus run the side in training from tomorrow. That makes sense.
Corbisiero would steady the scrum and allow the heroic Mako Vunipola to do what he was initially picked for, and be an impact replacement;
Phillips will hopefully be back to something like himself, though that would leave the question of back-up scrumhalf on the bench.
Conor Murray again made an impact last Saturday on his Lions Test debut. Whatever the challenge, little seems to faze him.
Allowing for green-tinted glasses, strictly on form, he’s arguably the form scrumhalf, as well as being an established partner for Sexton, which would make missing out on the match-day 23 curious to say the least. Roberts will assuredly return to the side, thereby giving the Lions the go-forward ball from inside centre lacking in the first two Tests.
Presuming O’Driscoll rather than Jonathan Davies is retained at outside centre, there oughtn’t to be any further changes to the backline, but that still leaves a few issues in the pack.
As a sometime Leinster and current Ireland captain, Heaslip would be the next in line in the leadership stakes, and thus perhaps the pack leader.
Seán O’Brien would be the natural replacement for Warburton, and also inject some ballast into the backrow.
A big conundrum for the coaching staff will be whether to revert to Tom Croft to stiffen the line-out, or retain the tree-felling tackling of Dan Lydiate, with whoever misses out on the starting team liable to be included on the bench.
It was perhaps no co-incidence the preference for Lydiate for the second Test saw Will Genia’s influence more curtailed than in Brisbane.
The management will assuredly look at refreshing and beefing up the tight five, with Richard Hibbard perhaps starting ahead of Tom Youngs, which in turn could merit bringing in Ian Evans alongside Alun-Wyn Jones.
Such a line-up would freshen things up, and suggest the Lions are intent on going for the jugular, as opposed to being paralysed by fear of failure. That’s what is called for.