Waratahs will pack a punch and provide Lions with proper test
Selection shows the management are getting closer to settling on Test side
This is more like it again. A week on from the Queensland Reds’ daring and rousing speedgun start to taking on the Lions, Michael Cheika’s New South Wales Waratahs will put their best foot forward as any team of his would dare to do for a 44,000-sell-out crowd against a formidable looking Warren Gatland selection and in a fixture steeped in history.
This rivalry dates back 125 years to the teams’ first meeting at the iconic Sydney Cricket Ground on 2 June, 1888 when the Lions won 18-2. Since then, the sides have met a total of 20 times, with the Waratahs recording four victories and one draw. In their last encounter in June 2001 at today’s venue the Allianz Stadium (then called the Sydney Football Stadium), the Lions won 41-24.
The NSW Waratahs last beat the Lions 18-14 at the Sydney Sports Ground in 1959, but their win in 1930 represents the biggest defeat which the Lions have ever suffered and their four wins in 20 meetings makes them the most successful Australian side outside the test arena against the Lions.
Although missing 11 international players, the Waratahs’ have been boosted by Robbie Deans releasing their captain and line-out caller Dave Dennis along with centre Rob Horne, who between them have 29 Wallabies’ caps. They also welcome back openside Pat McCutcheon from the knee injury which prevented him from captaining last week’s youthful side which recorded a first ever win in Perth over the Force.
In effect, Cheika has all bar Adam Ashley-Cooper and Israel Folau of his first-choice backline, albeit with only Dennis and McCutcheon of his frontline forwards, with hooker Tatafu Polota-Nua and lock Sitaleki Timani injured and the remainder in camp with the Wallabies.
In addition to Dennis and Horne, the 63-cap Wallabies winger Drew Mitchell starts at fullback and prop Paddy Ryan, who made his Test debut in the 2012 Spring Tour against France, plays at tight-head.
The Lions, for their part, are clearly inching closer toward test combinations, and while a nominal first-choice three-quarter line played against the Combined Country, the Lions have probably picked their strongest selection yet on this tour, even if the prognosis that this is their test one to 10 is probably jumping the gun.
“We’re playing against a team with a massive artillery,” admitted Cheika. “Obviously I’d like to have all our international players available but fair play to the ARU to giving us Dave and Rob back and for releasing Bernard and Matt from the sevens camp,” he added, in reference to playmaking out-half Bernard Foley and his understudy Matt Lucas.
Opportunities knock for all the Lions playing today, for although the management are looking closer and closer at their test selection, that has been an ongoing process from day one and will remain so.
“We have been doing that since the very first training session at the Vale of Glamorgan,” said forwards coach Graham Rowntree yesterday. “We watch how the guys are in the environment, who are the diligent ones, watching computer, who are the ones learning the calls. We watch training videos back, see how the body language is, we are watching them 24/7. I must say I have been very impressed. They are everything I expected. They have all been very professional.”
But as has been well documented, it is clearly a big game for the flankers Tom Croft and Sam Warburton, as well as, perhaps the outside backs. With all this in mind, the stronger the test provided by the Waratahs the better in Gatland’s view, and the respect he has for the work done by Michael Cheika is palpable, as in the influence of Alan Gaffney.
“They are excellent. The breakdown stuff is very strong, and Alan Gaffney is an influence with their back-line. They draw and pass really well. It is going to be a big challenge for us. It is something we are really looking forward to. The players get excited about playing traditionally good sides like the Waratahs. It should be a great atmosphere, although I hope it is not a repeat of 12 years ago,” he said with a smile in reference to the bit of biff which tarnished that game, notably Duncan McRae’s assault on Ronan O’Gara. And the Aussies do like a bit of biff from their sportsmen.
The management will be crossing their fingers that there’ll be no more injuries, but this should be a proper match. This should be interesting.
Sydney Teams: How they’ll line out
15 Drew Mitchell
14 Cam Crawford
13 Rob Horne
12 Tom Carter
11 Peter Betham
10 Bernard Foley
9 Brendan McKibbin
1 Jeremy Tilse
2 John Ulugia
3 Paddy Ryan
4 Will Skelton
5 Ollie Atkins
6 Jed Holloway
7 Pat McCutcheon
8 Dave Dennis (capt)
British & Irish Lions
15 Leigh Halfpenny (Wales)
14 Sean Maitland (Scotland)
13 Jonathan Davies (Wales)
12 Jamie Roberts (Wales)
11 Simon Zebo (Ireland)
10 Jonathan Sexton (Ireland)
9 Mike Phillips (Wales)
1 Mako Vunipola (England)
2 Tom Youngs (England)
3 Adam Jones (Wales)
4 Alun Wyn Jones (Wales)
5 Paul O’Connell (Ireland)
6 Tom Croft (England)
7 Sam Warburton (Wales, capt)
8 Jamie Heaslip (Ireland)
British and Irish Lions replacements: Richard Hibbard (Wales), Alex Corbisiero (England), Dan Cole (England), Geoff Parling (England), Dan Lydiate (Wales), Ben Youngs (England), Owen Farrell (England), Rob Kearney (Ireland).
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa).
Betting (Paddy Power): 16/1 Waratahs, 55/1 Draw, 1/100 Lions. Handicap odds (Waratahs +24pts) 10/11 Waratahs, 22/1 Draw, 10/11 Lions.
Forecast: Lions to win, and cover handicap.