The British and Irish Lions included fit-again winger Tommy Bowe and scrum-half Ben Youngs among five starting changes for the second rugby Test against Australia, which made two injury-enforced alterations of its own.
Irishman Bowe, who broke a bone in his hand June 8, takes over from Alex Cuthbert and Youngs replaces Mike Phillips, who was left out of the 23-man squad for this weekend’s match in Melbourne. Flanker Dan Lydiate comes in for Tom Croft, while lock Geoff Parling and prop Mako Vunipola step in for the injured Paul O’Connell and Alex Corbisiero.
“Tommy is obviously a quality player and brings experience,” Lions head coach Warren Gatland told reporters in Melbourne. “The medics have done a brilliant job bringing him back and he has slotted in really well this week.”
The Lions, who won the June 22 opener in Brisbane 23-21, would secure their first series victory in 16 years by winning at Etihad Stadium in two days. Australia also lost the first Test when the teams last met in 2001 before rebounding for a 2-1 triumph. The third match is scheduled for July 6 in Sydney.
Prop Ryan Grant, back-rower Sean O’Brien and scrum-half Conor Murray were called up to the replacements after playing in the 35-0 victory against the Melbourne Rebels two days ago. Croft and Cuthbert will join them on the bench alongside fly-half Owen Farrell, hooker Richard Hibbard and prop Dan Cole.
“This is a do or die match for Australia,” Gatland added. “It’s going to be a real battle out there. We’ve decided to add a little bit more physicality up front and Dan Lydiate brings that. Then we’ve got the explosiveness off the bench with Tom Croft and Sean O’Brien.”
Although Phillips, who started all three Tests in South Africa four years ago, was “fit and available,” the Welsh scrum-half didn’t take full part in training this week because of knee soreness from the first Test.
“He is potentially an important component for next week,” Gatland said of Phillips. “Given the quality of the nines we have got, all of them have done a great job for us, we felt it was prudent to make sure he was 100 percent fit for next week.”
Phillips’s replacement Youngs joins his brother, Tom, in the starting lineup, making the Englishmen the 14th set of siblings to play for the Lions, whose last Test series triumph was in South Africa in 1997.
“The last thing we want to do is think about being 1-1 and having to play another game in Sydney,” Gatland said. “Everything for us is about Saturday night.”
Australia, which finished the first match with a flanker playing in the backline and a scrum-half on the wing because of injuries, retained James O’Connor at fly-half and made two enforced changes to its starting lineup.
Kurtley Beale, who missed a last-minute penalty kick that would have won the opener for the Wallabies, was picked at full-back to replace the concussed Berrick Barnes. Joe Tomane comes onto the left wing in place of the injured Digby Ioane.
Midfield back Rob Horne and rookie full-back Jesse Mogg were added to Australia’s replacements’ bench. The pair already faced the Lions on their 2013 tour, appearing for the New South Wales Waratahs and ACT Brumbies, respectively.
Wallabies coach Robbie Deans said he hadn’t considered dropping O’Connor and Beale after they were photographed posing with fans at 3:50 a.m. yesterday in a Melbourne fast-food restaurant after attending the Lions-Rebels match. Although the Australian Rugby Union cleared them of breaching team protocols, Deans said it wasn’t ideal preparation.
“We’ve had a conversation for sure,” Deans said in a news conference. “It’s not best practice in terms of sleeping habits. They understand that it was too late for them to get to bed. Suffice to say it wasn’t a comfortable conversation.”
O’Connor again starts in the No. 10 playmaking role after being criticized by local media for his performance in Brisbane. Christian Leali’ifano, who got knocked out less than a minute into his Test debut in the series opener, will play at inside center after passing post-concussion tests. He’ll partner Adam Ashley-Cooper, who’s recovered from a shoulder injury.
“We can take a lot out of game one,” Ashley-Cooper said. “The nerves and the buildup have settled and we certainly know what we’re going to encounter. We’ve had a really good preparation this week and we’re clear and we’re really ready and excited by the opportunity on Saturday night.”
BRITISH AND IRISH LIONS: Leigh Halfpenny, Tommy Bowe, Brian O’Driscoll, Jonathan Davies, George North, Jonathan Sexton, Ben Youngs, Jamie Heaslip, Sam Warburton (captain), Dan Lydiate, Geoff Parling, Alun Wyn Jones, Adam Jones, Tom Youngs, Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: Richard Hibbard, Ryan Grant, Dan Cole, Tom Croft, Sean O’Brien, Conor Murray, Owen Farrell, Alex Cuthbert.
AUSTRALIA: Kurtley Beale, Israel Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Christian Leali’ifano, Joe Tomane, James O’Connor, Will Genia, Wycliff Palu, Michael Hooper, Ben Mowen, James Horwill (captain), Kane Douglas, Ben Alexander, Stephen Moore, Benn Robinson.
Replacements: Saia Fainga’a, James Slipper, Sekope Kepu, Rob Simmons, Liam Gill, Nick Phipps, Rob Horne, Jesse Mogg.