Zebo likely to see Lions action this weekend
Wing Tommy Bowe still hopeful of return for second game againt Wallabies on June 29th
Simon Zebo (left) and Mako Vunipola after the 64-0 win at Hunter Stadium today. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Gatland expects to call on Zebo for at least one of the upcoming games against NSW Waratahs (June 15th) or the ACT Brumbies (June 18th) before the first Test against the Wallabies in Brisbane (June 22nd).
“There is a good chance he (Zebo) might be involved in the next two games,” Gatland added. “Now that Simon is here, we will try to involve him in some way.”
The New Zealander was speaking after watching his side crush a Combined Country XV of mostly part-time players 64-0 at Hunter Stadium in Newcastle.
The tourists scored 10 tries, but the second-half display contained a number of uncharacteristic errors.
In four games so far, the Lions have racked up 214 points and 28 tries, but only one of those fixtures — last Saturday’s clash against Queensland Reds in Brisbane — seriously tested them. But their next two encounters, against New South Wales Waratahs and the Brumbies, should challenge them ahead of Saturday week’s first Test match against Australia in Brisbane.
“It was a lot of use,” said Lions head coach Gatland, who was short and to the point with his post-match press conference answers. “That team only had one training session together. There was some excellent stuff, and there was some average stuff as well. There were a few turnovers. There is great harmony within the squad. We are undefeated, so if we can win the next two games we will arrive in Brisbane undefeated. We will be in a good positive frame of mind.”
The Lions led 38-0 at half-time, but the second period was low key in comparison, even though the tourists ended up with tries from George North (two), Richard Hibbard, Alex Cuthbert, Stuart Hogg, Jonathan Davies, Leigh Halfpenny, Conor Murray, Brian O’Driscoll and Sean O’Brien.
“It was what you would expect. Not many people get an opportunity to play against the Lions,” Lions skipper O’Driscoll said. “They were excited about it and they weren’t going to leave anything behind. We felt a couple of impacts out there. We probably got a little bit flat, depth-wise, and some passes were thrown behind, when a little bit of depth might have made things a lot easier. That is one easy fix.
“We tried to kick on in the second half, but it just didn’t really happen for us at times. We should have been able to kick on, but we didn’t.”
Country XV coach Cameron Blades praised his players’ efforts, but he was also complimentary of the Lions as the countdown continues towards the Test series.
“At times in the first half it was rabbits in highlights and we struggled to react, especially when there was turnover ball. They cut us apart a few times,” Blades said. “But there was really positive talk in the changing room at half-time, and I thought that showed in the second half. I think the Wallabies will learn a lot out of tonight. We had four props in our squad who have not played any higher than premier club rugby.
“They are an outstanding side, the Lions. We showed a little bit in the second half that if you can get in their face they can make errors. But they are a slick outfit — it is going to be a cracking series. They put us under a fair bit of pressure at times. They are a very organised setpiece team, but I think the Wallabies will be able to do plenty of work on them.”
And captain Tim Davidson added: “In that first half we missed a couple of one-on-ones, but the width they played with was exceptional. In the second half we spoke about the longer we could defend against them, the more mistakes they would make. Full credit to the Lions, and how important this game was to country rugby in Australia. I really hope this is a full-time fixture in years to come. We will remember it for the rest of our lives. That is what rugby is all about.”