Lions Are Primed to Seal First Rugby Series Win in 16 Years
The British and Irish Lions have the luxury of being able to lose the second rugby Test to Australia and retain a chance of their first series win in 16 years. The combined team wants to get the job done tomorrow.
“There’s an attitude to go 2-0,” Lions assistant coach Rob Howley, who played on the losing squad against the Wallabies 12 years ago, said today in a news conference. “That’s been very evident in the week. You have to seize the moment and take the opportunity. We’re 1-0 up and we can put Australia to bed tomorrow evening, that’s our goal and that’s our mindset.”
After starting the three-game contest with a 23-21 win in Brisbane, the Lions would seal the series with another victory at Melbourne’s Etihad Stadium. Australia also lost the first Test when the teams last met in 2001 before rebounding for a 2-1 triumph. The third match is July 6 in Sydney.
Lions captain Sam Warburton and fellow Welshman Adam Jones said they expect a backlash from the Wallabies, who were a failed penalty kick away from winning in Brisbane when Kurtley Beale slipped as he went to strike the ball in the last minute.
“Australia are going to come at us,” prop Jones said yesterday at the Lions’ Melbourne hotel. “We know the Australians are wounded now. They probably should have won the first Test. We know they’re going to come out firing.”
Going so close after having to make regular backline adjustments as three players were stretchered off and another two also got injured has given the Wallabies belief for the second game, according to head coach Robbie Deans.
“For the team to work their way through and get themselves in the position to be able to win that game was remarkable,” Deans said yesterday. “We were close last week, but short. We have to win this week. We have to put a better performance in. I’ve got absolutely no doubt we will do that.”
Australia, which finished the opener with a flanker and scrum-half in the backline because of the injuries, retained James O’Connor at fly-half and made two enforced starting changes for tomorrow’s game.
Beale was picked at full-back to replace Berrick Barnes, who suffered a concussion, while 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 the replacements’ bench.
Deans said he hadn’t considered dropping O’Connor and Beale after they were photographed posing with fans at 3:50 a.m. in a fast-food restaurant after attending the Lions’ 35-0 shutout of the Melbourne Rebels on June 25. 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. “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 also kept 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.
Ashley-Cooper, who’s played 78 Tests for Australia, said the Wallabies are steeling themselves for another physical challenge from the tourists.
“If I was in their position, I’d come out at Etihad Stadium this week and give it everything,” Ashley-Cooper said. “They’ve got a win under their belt so why wouldn’t they? They’ve got that fallback option. For us, our backs are against the wall, we need to win.”
The Lions picked fit-again winger Tommy Bowe, who broke a bone in his hand June 8, and scrum-half Ben Youngs among five changes to their starting lineup.
Bowe takes over from Alex Cuthbert and Youngs replaces Mike Phillips, who was left out of the 23-man squad. In changes to the forward pack, 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.
Prop Ryan Grant, back-rower Sean O’Brien and scrum-half Conor Murray were called up to the replacements after impressing against the Rebels three days ago. Croft and Cuthbert will join them on the bench alongside fly-half Owen Farrell, hooker Richard Hibbard and prop Dan Cole.
Howley said emotional intelligence, good decision making and accuracy would be the keys to victory “in the hurly-burly of the battle.”
“The side that’s been selected, we feel that we’ve got Test match animals that have made those decisions in games and understand what is required tomorrow night,” Howley said in a news conference. “I just hope we’re right.”
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