Lions’ negative game plan hands all the momentum to Australia
Dropping of O’Driscoll a huge mistake
The Lions’ front row in action against Australia last week in Melbourne.The Lions’ scrum is not interested in giving the ball to the backline. Phtograph: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images
The Lions have done everything in their power to give the Tom Richards Trophy to the Wallabies.
Two weeks ago when I was in Brisbane for the first Test, the Lions were clear favourites.
The Lions had several leaders, more game time, a stronger set piece and momentum was on their side.
It beggars belief that in less than two weeks all those factors have swung in favour of the Wallabies.
Robbie was in control of his environment. He was confident and relaxed. I coached Andrew Blades for four years at the Waratahs. He is a rugby intellect of the highest calibre.
Without giving away Wallaby state secrets, Andrew showed the coaches’ analysis of lineouts run by Paul O’Connell, compared to lineouts run by Geoff Parling. The findings were stark.
The Wallabies feared O’Connell’s organisational ability and leadership.
O’Connell’s lineouts were controlled and difficult to defend because he used a variety of personnel to avoid the defenders. Parling’s were rushed – as we saw in the disorganisation of the second Test lineouts – and more easily read as he called to himself the majority of times.
The Lions coaches could not control the injury to O’Connell but they do have a significant hand in tactics and total control of selection. The current Lions’ game plan centres on set play dominance to gain penalties for Halfpenny to score.
There is one problem. It ain’t working. The Lions are going into the deciding Test without a game plan that attacks Wallabies’ weaknesses.
The Lions did not liberate the ball from a single scrum last week. At the coaching conference the Wallaby staff showed analysis of the Lions scrum. It is unarguable that at the set-up, the Lions’ front row significantly angles forward at loosehead. On engagement the loosehead drives in, or attempts to walk around to gain a penalty.
The Lions’ scrum is not interested in giving the ball to the backline. The Lions are scrumaging for penalties. Despite Vunipola’s early errors, last week the Lions gained nine points from scrum penalties.
Last week the first five-metre attacking lineout saw the Lions backline run in to attempt to set up a 12-man maul. That style of attack is an abomination on the game, however it does reflect the lack of imagination in the Lions attack coaches.
The Wallabies have belief because the Lions took a knife to a gunfight, believing penalty kicks would be enough to win the series.
With a game plan that minimised backline attack and maximises field position to gain penalties, the Lions selectors then panicked and dropped Brian O’Driscoll, the most experienced leader available to them and the best defending centre. They have punished the outside centre for not attacking when the team’s tactic is to not pass the ball.
In dropping both Brian and Jamie Heaslip the Lions have gone from having five national captains on the field to one, in Alun-Wynn Jones.
The only possible rationale is the Lions’ staff believe a Welsh -based team have more experience playing together. If this is so then it has a major flaw. The Welsh were beaten three Tests to nil by a much weaker Wallaby team last June.
Unwittingly the lack of imagination in the Lions’ game plans has empowered a fragile Wallaby team to believe they can win. Like a wind changing direction, the series momentum has departed the Lions and has hit the Australians.
On the field the Wallabies’ defence has been top class and their fighting spirit unquestionable.
To the Lions coaches’ amazement, the Wallaby scrum has held and at times dominated. Watch for penalties on Adam Jones for his tactic of pulling down his opposing loosehead by grabbing his sleeve.
The return of George Smith could be a masterstroke. He understands referee Poite from his time in Toulon and speaks passable French. His presence at the tackle will be significant.
More importantly, Smith brings to the Wallaby team what O’Driscoll should have brought to the Lions. An aura of invincibility, a legendary position in the team’s lore that inspires his mates to give more because they do not want to let him down. Playing with a legend is inspirational.
The Wallabies have gained a great deal by selecting George and inexplicably the Lions have chosen to discard even more by dropping O’Driscoll
The impact on the Lions players of not selecting Brian is immeasurable. It has placed pressure on the selected team that could have been avoided and robbed them of an opportunity to say, “I played with Brian O’Driscoll the night he Lions won”.
A first class selection balls -up.
If I was Robbie Deans, part of my game plan would be to get the ball into Israel Folaus’ hands 20 times in the 80 minutes. If Australia do this they will win. He is a match- winner.
Today it will be close, but the Lions are unravelling.
I believe The Tom “Rusty” Richards Trophy will stay in Australia for another 12h years and the Lions will lose the unloseable series.