Rebels game a last chance for some Lions, a last hurrah for others
Lions team bolstered by return of Tuilagi and should have the requisite fire-power
Rory Best (left) and Tom Court of the British and Irish Lions during the captain’s run at AAMI Park, Melbourne, scene of Saturday’s second Test against Australia. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Whatever about the last Tuesday game before the first Test, the last midweek game of the tour ahead of the second Test really is a speed bump.
Admittedly, this is possibly a last shot at redemption for many involved in last Tuesday’s sole defeat, and thus a last opportunity to nudge Warren Gatland and co in terms of Saturday’s second Test or indeed the finale on Saturday week.
But while plenty of examples of the latter would be welcome, as would a win to augment the momentum gained last Saturday, negotiating the game without further injuries or mishaps would be particularly beneficial.
Two-thirds of this team which faces the RaboDirect Melbourne Rebels (to give them their full title), appropriately enough, play in the Pro 12, including four Irish.
Bit of a gamble
This is a little bit of a gamble, given the midweek games are subservient to the Tests – as was evident in last Tuesday’s selection. Sad to say, given Rory Best’s horror throwing show in Canberra, the management will be fervently hoping Tom Youngs comes through unscathed. Nor would they want any more damage to their secondrow stocks.
Seán O’Brien appears to be a little out of favour, but he really could do with a big game, and while reverting to the openside hardly gives him an opportunity to supplant Sam Warburton, it does give him a chance to at least stake his claim for a place on the bench.
The team is also bolstered by the return of Manu Tuilagi, and Sean Maitland, and while the 10-12-13 English axis wasn’t exactly the most subtle or creative force in the Six Nations, there should be enough fire-power to keep that winning feeling.
The Rebels have named their strongest available team, with the 37-times capped scrumhalf Luke Burgess selected after his recent return from a two-year stint with Toulouse.
With Kurtley Beale, James O’Connor and Nick Phipps unavailable, the Rebels also welcome the return of Hugh Pyle and Jarrod Saffy from injury, and outhalf Bryce Hegarty from illness, having started in the wins against the NSW Waratahs and Stormers in recent wins.
While some may feel deep down tonight game marks the match-playing end to their tour, the disappointment at being chucked into the last Tuesday game before the first Test ought to be overcome by the realisation they are drinking at the last chance saloon in terms of forcing their way into the Test picture.
That ought to concentrate minds.
British & Irish Lions: Rob Kearney (Leinster/Ireland); Sean Maitland (Glasgow Warriors/Scotland), Manu Tuilagi (Leicester Tigers/England), Brad Barritt (Saracens/England), Simon Zebo (Munster/Ireland); Owen Farrell (Saracens/England), Conor Murray (Munster/Ireland); Ryan Grant (Glasgow Warriors/Scotland), Richard Hibbard (Ospreys/Wales), Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers/England), Richie Gray (Scotland)), Ian Evans (Ospreys/Wales), Dan Lydiate (Dragons/Wales, capt), Sean O’Brien (Leinster/Ireland), Toby Faletau (Dragons/Wales). Replacements: Rory Best (Ulster/Ireland), Tom Court (Ulster/Ireland), Matt Stevens (Saracens/England), Tom Croft (Leicester Tigers/England), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys/Wales), Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers/England), Billy Twelvetrees (Gloucester Rugby/England), Stuart Hogg (Glasgow Warriors/Scotland).