Lack of Tune-up May Hamper Wallabies Against Lions, ARU CEO Says

Australia’s lack of a tune-up match will handicap the Wallabies in next month’s series opener against the British and Irish Lions, according to the country’s top rugby executive.

When the best-of-three contest starts June 22 in Brisbane, the Lions will have had six games in which to develop combinations and hone their playing style. The match will be the Wallabies’ first since Dec. 2 and some on the squad may have gone three weeks without playing a competitive game.

“I think we are at a pretty substantial disadvantage with that first Test match,” Australian Rugby Union Chief Executive Officer Bill Pulver said in a telephone interview. “The Lions have finished a Six Nations tournament so they’re battle-hardened. They’ll have formed together as a team.”

The Lions, a selection of players from the U.K. and Ireland who tour every four years, included 15 Welshmen in a 37-man squad last month after Wales won Europe’s Six Nations title. There are 10 Englishmen, nine Irishmen and three Scots.

Wallabies coach Robbie Deans named his core group of 25 players four days ago. They’ll play two more rounds of the Super Rugby competition before entering training camp from June 2 ahead of the first Test 20 days later. Another six will be added to a final 31-man roster to be announced June 11.

The Lions open their tour with an exhibition game against the Barbarians in Hong Kong on June 1 and then travel to Perth to take on the Western Force four days later. They’ll play another four matches in the lead up to the Test series.

‘Brutally Difficult’

“They’re going to play six games before we even get access to them,” Pulver said of the Lions. “Robbie Deans will have about 2 1/2 weeks to prepare a team so that first Test is going to be brutally difficult.”

Deans, who included three rookies in his initial list, said in announcing the squad May 20 that the Wallabies must “make the most of the limited preparation time we have” if they’re to avoid getting “caught short” in the first Test, as happened the last time the Lions toured Australia in 2001.

Twelve years ago, the Wallabies trailed 29-3 in the opener before pulling back to lose 29-13. They went on to win the next two matches to secure their first Test series triumph against the combined team. Martin Johnson, the Lions’ captain on that tour, has said the visiting fans in the first match, decked in their red jerseys and in full voice at Brisbane’s Gabba stadium, made the occasion “like playing at home.”

“We scored some late points to make it respectable but the truth is they smashed us in that first Test,” Pulver added. “They were much better prepared, so I’m hoping we can put plans in place to address that this time. But I’m under no illusions about how difficult that first game is going to be. We know there’s going to be a sea of red there.”

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