Get Quick Ball. Use Quick Ball. Repeat.

Warren Gatland has named his team for the second test, and the big decision has been made at scrum-half, where Mike Phillips, who looked to be operating below 100% in the first test, carries the can.  Rather than replacing like for like and replacing him with Ireland’s Conor Murray, who even looks a bit like him, he’s gone with Ben Youngs, who’s a totally different player, a nippy nine who’s all about high tempo and quick tap penalties.

Elsewhere, Mako Vunipola starts.  We thought he’d be held back as reserve again, but Gatland will be hoping that having Adam Jones on the other side of him will be enough to drag the scrum kicking and screaming through 80 minutes.  Before the tour started, the Lions could have reasonable hopes of using the set piece as a weapon – now it’s fingers-crossed time.  At least Vunipola offers a strong carrying threat in what is a pack short of gainline breakers.

To nobody’s surprise, Dan Lydiate starts at 6.  We know what he’s there to do, so let’s hope he does it.  O’Brien mercifully gets called up to the bench, where he finds himself beside Tom Croft, who’s covering the second row.  If last week’s bench was light on impact, this time Gatland has swung the other way and both could be explosive against tiring legs in the last 20 minutes.  The price to pay is that Alun-Wyn Jones is now a protected species.  Were he to get injured, a second row of Parling and Croft would leave the Lions worryingly short of power.  An already creaking scrum could be decimated (ref: last 20 in Brisbane)

Back to the scrum-half business, which has serious consequences for what we can expect from the Lions.  Warrenball is predicated on a monstrous nine who can commit tacklers and bring in huge runners around the fringes.  Bosh! Smash! Kapow! This team looks like a serious deviation from Warrenball.  With a backrow containing three ruck-smashers in Lydiate, Warburton and Heaslip, the aim must surely be to win oodles of silver-platter ball for Ben Youngs.  Youngs struggles on the back foot, where his game can become a tangle of arm waving and poor decisions, but with decent service, there are few quicker at getting the ball away to his fly-half.  It might just suit Jonny Sexton, who can unleash the three-quarter-line, which is loaded with gifted strike runners.  It does look like the plan is to go around Australia rather than bash through them.  If they can get the ball into North and Bowe’s hands in good positions, how can they lose?

The trouble with the plan is that in order to generate quick ball, you need to punch your way over the gainline.  With no O’Brien, Faletau, Phillips or Tuilagi starting, who is going to make the hard yards?  Jamie Heaslip and Mako Vunipola will have to put in some serious shifts.  The other minor issue is that as far as we can make out, Ben Youngs and Sexton have yet to play together on the tour, and therefore ever.  For what looks a fairly natural partnership, it’s a bit nuts that their first appearance alongside one another is in the pivotal second test.

Gatland has shown some ruthlessness in dropping tryscorer Cuthbert in favour of Bowe, who is a player he appears to value very highly.  It’s a marginal call, and Bowe came out the right side of it.  With Toby Faletau unlucky not to feature in a test squad yet, despite playing some great rugby, nobody can accuse Gatland of having a Welsh bias.  He certainly appears to have his favourites, and one ould certainly make a case that the test team was picked in advance of the plane touching down in Hong Kong, but his favourites aren’t necessarily Welsh.

There were a few surprises in the Aussie team too, not least that they are sticking with James O’Connor at 10, in spite of Kurtley Beale starting.  We thought they’d move them around a bit, with O’Connor on the wing and Beale at 10.  The first test was marked by each team having one half-back in princely form and one playing like a drain.  At least the Lions have sought to address their issue.

And where the bloody hell is the Honey Badger?  We are outraged.

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31 Comments

  1. Johnny O Connor at 10 for Australia! I thought he was retired 🙂

  2. Rava

     /  June 27, 2013

    Good job it wasn’t Niall O’Connor 😉

  3. To quote an old WOC article ou et le boeuf? I am glad to see O’Brien on the bench (starting would have better) but I’d haved like to see Grant starting and Gray involved either starting or off the bench. We look underpowered up front and there is a good chance of a wet day in Melbourne. Still not a bad selection, they’ll be up against it but I reckon Lions to squeaky bum it by less than 5.

    • Yossarian

       /  June 27, 2013

      roof on the stadium so rain shouldn’t be a bother.guess he is hoping with a closed roof there won’t be many knock ons/scrums.

  4. JT64

     /  June 27, 2013

    I don’t necessarily agree that it’s a poor decision not to move JOC out wide…He wasn’t designated goal kicker on Sat so wouldn’t have warmed up as much as Leali’ifano had, so unsurprising he missed two early on. Think this had a knock on effect on his confidence for the rest of the game, which is understandable. He is only 22 after all. This time around though he will have Leali’ifano beside him to help boss him through it so I’d expect a much improved performance from him.

    Think the Lions can do it…no more than 6 points.

    • SteveO

       /  June 27, 2013

      It’s a fair point about O’Connor not being designated goal kicker before the game, but I’m not sure confidence was really the issue. Confidence is something James O’Connor has never lacked and this wasn’t the first time he’s been asked to kick for the Wallabies (and not the first time he’s missed a couple either). The problem as I see it is that his usual game is based on instinct and excellent natural ability, whereas playing at 10 requires a lot more cerebral effort than he’s used to. If Leali’ifano had stayed on then the Aussies probably wouldn’t have had their kicking woes, but just as significantly it would have meant O’Connor had another decision maker outside him to take the pressure off and allow him to play his way into the game.

  5. Cian

     /  June 27, 2013

    To me it appears one of the more balanced teams Gatland could have picked. Whereas last week faith was put in a front 9 to make hard yards, this week all roads will lead to Sexton. He’ll get quick ball from a strong back row and how he uses it will determine who wins.

  6. SMH

     /  June 27, 2013

    There is an interesting post on Green and Gold Rugby suggesting that Jonny Sexton’s injury problems are still there (http://www.greenandgoldrugby.com/operation-spud-smasher-get-johnny-sexton/). I am beginning to get the feeling that this is influencing the selection of both Davies and Lydiate. Thoughts?

    • Not buying it really. The only injury he hs recently been managing was a hamstring. He is still line-kicking and unleashing huge Garryowens with regularity, which would place stress on the injury if it were bad. Think it’s a bit of pot-stirring from the Aussies. He made more tackles than any of the back three so if they are trying to hide him they’re doing a poor job of it. They even attempt to talk up a rift between Sexton and the camp. But Sexton was the one player other than the captain who talked in the pre-match huddle. Seems far-fetched in the extreme.

      • Buccaneer

         /  June 27, 2013

        i thought that article was no more than a bit of Aussie skulduggery alright!

  7. I was looking at the scrum half stuff this morning and found that Phillips had 126 minutes of Tour gametime compared to Murray just about breaking 170 minutes and Youngs nearer to 190 (I think). Suddenly people seem to be talking about how Phillips has been nursing a knock all tour, so why are we only finding out and reacting to it after squeaking through the first Test?

    Anyway, Youngs got some gametime with Sexton after the latter came on for Bowe against the Reds, probably at centre, which is better than nothing, right?

    • It’s a puzzler isn’t it? You raise a most interesting point. The cameras showed Phillips icing his knee after the ‘Tahs game the saturday before the test. I can appreciate that as a coach you’d want to get a man like Phillips onto the pitch if at all possible, but it looks like they took a massive risk in picking him for the first test and it very nearly cost them.

  8. Quite a mobile (Adam Jones excepted) Lions pack for this test, along with Youngs really does indicate run around rather than through Australia.

    I’m looking forward to Youngs and Sexton – IF Lions manage to get clean ruck ball, all hell could be let loose in the back line. North and Bowe, one could almost drool over their speed, balance and footwork.

    I’d be really interested to know if this selection was kind of pre-ordained at the start of the tour. As in a defined strategy pre-tour to have 2 different gameplans for the first 2 tests and then see which was most effective in the 3rd if we’re still in with a shout.

    Having such a different gameplan for this test can only upset the Australian preparations and strategies and for that I think it could be a masterstroke.

    Or am I giving Gatland too much credit for his tactical nous and have injuries just forced his hand here?

    • Great post. Sometimes it’s best to put the questions out there and accept you don’t really have the answers. Demented Mole ran a great piece saying Gatland’s best chance of winning the series was by beating an undercooked Aussies in the first test befaore completely changing the plan in the second, and Dan Lydiate was part of the plan. Maybe Wazza has been taking notes. Maybe not. Who really knows? One thing’s for sure. If the Lions win on saturday, Gatland will be king.

  9. Yossarian

     /  June 27, 2013

    After the “slabs of meat” comments before the tour it turns out the aussies have the bigger test team. Risky lack of power in that second row. Is gatland expecting an onslaught from the aussies,weather it,then spring SOB and Croft taking off his captain?their backline looks lethal.if we kick poorly they will kill us.Phillips kicking was poor,hopefully the intention is to run it more this week.

  10. Great piece. And let’s hope the plan is to go around, always makes for more beautiful rugby. Think we have the equipment to do it too. Concerns about second row power aside, (and how ironic it would be if the Lions did get scrummed and even mauled off the park) I otherwise like this selection. Haven’t seen Ben Youngs on the back foot much, admittedly, but he snipes very well, and his slightly quicker speed of service, giving Sexton an extra fraction of decision time, could pay big dividends. Like everyone else here, I’d love to see SO”B start, but also love to see Warburton have a big game. Last, minor quibble, think Cuthbert a bit unlucky to loose out, apart from one fumble forward last Saturday he was very good, lovely balance and footwork for his try and he still had a lot to do.
    But Sexton and BO”D having a second more time and space, then using their amazing reading and distribution skills to put Bowe, Halfpenny and North into space? If we even get parity up front, it could all be mouthwatering. Roll on Saturday.
    As for Australia: Maybe James O’Connor will surprise us all on but, quite apart from his dire kicking in first Test, he didn’t look like a natural 10 anyway. Why Robbie Deans doesn’t stick him further out, or in the back 3 and play Kurtley Beale at 10 is bizarre. At this point it looks almost as willfully dumb as French selection policy (eg: sticking with Freddy Michelak V BNZ, which cost them any chance of winning recent 3 tests) Almost as bad? We shall see.

    • Part of me thought the backline selection could be a Ger Loughnane classic, and we’ll see number 15 (Beale) standing in the 10 slot, number 10 (O’Connor) on the wing, and number 14 (Folau) at full-back. All 3 appear more natural in those positions.

      Its unlikely though … unless Deans has previous at Canterbury?

      • Bob

         /  June 27, 2013

        Well I can answer that one. Deans did have Mehrtens doing a 10/15 swap for Crusaders back in the day.

        • The plot thickens. Thanks Bob.

          • Bob

             /  June 28, 2013

            Yeah, if Beale plays at 10, JOC at 14, and Folau 15 I wouldn’t be that surprised. I suspect JOC will in fact start at 10, but Beale may well be seen in the playmaker role, especially on attack.

  11. El Greco

     /  June 27, 2013

    Whiffers,
    A fine article again. If it marks a sea-change in Gatland’s schematics fair play to him. I rather fear it is more to do with 1. injuries (both sustained and recovered from) 2. a collective sh*tting of themselves by the management team that they’ll be stuffed if it comes to the third rubber.
    It is also instructive to see the IRB stepping in with regard to the Horwill exoneration. Predictably there’s lots of aussie bleating about it, but I would have presumed if they were so convinced of his innocence they’d welcome its intervention, no?

  12. I think your point on Vunipola playing when Jones is on is a subtle one, and clever thinking. It’s actually made me feel better about the selection.

    Sexton and Youngs played together for half an hour last week.

  13. I got so caught up in extra time for Sexton & midfield, and the bizarre Aussie selection, I’d forgotten about Vunipola. Think this might be the one, bad, mistake. Yes he is brilliant in the loose, not just strong but super hands too. But he is not a scrummager. Surely better to have a decent scrum and let the back rows, midfield and wide players do the damage? Scrum last 20 minutes last Saturday was a disaster. (think you described it elsewhere as an embarrassment) Can you imagine that horror show for the entire first 55-60 minutes? If we get pinged all day, the wide players will barely see the ball. Cole not amazing either, but surely a better starting scrummager? And as you say, if Alun Wyn-Jones gets injured… G’wad Darn, was reasonably happy before. …. Just worried now.

  14. Rich

     /  June 28, 2013

    Good piece – I would agree with the above – you would want O’Connor to be receiving those passes not making them. Aus had limited possession in 1st half -certainly had no phase play worth talking about – plus losing L’Fano at 12 and having a poor mans Kevin Maggs at 12 would not help any creativity. JOC certainly looked a lot better with Beale at 15. That would have been an area of weakness to maybe focus on before the game rather than……focusing on Folau under the high ball……wikipedia would have told them he played AFL for 2 years.

    All in – best of what we have available, feel that Grey could add some grunt in scrum if we needed it but Croft will have to step in there. Itching to see SOB getting on and getting a run – the boy has been superb!

  15. Scrum was a disaster in the last 20 but how much were the last two scrums which gave the Aussies the penalty the fault of POC playing on with the broken arm and how much because of Vunipola? The selection which I’m not that happy with is BOD and Davies. They are two 13s and they end up playing as sort of 12.5s. I think BOD can do this (especially off second phase ball) but Davies is a bit more limited, and if he is to be used in the typical Gatland game plan as a bosher, he isn’t in the same league as Tuilaga or Roberts. But then again if the plan is to go round them, then maybe that’s ok. But I agree with the lack of punch players, the players to get you over the gainline. I saw a good analysis of Gatland’s typical game plan on Green and Gold I think, where it basically identified the style as punch, punch, (punch), possibly punch again up the short side, and then sling it wide.

    • Yossarian

       /  June 28, 2013

      I think we are going to see a different pattern to that this week. He has not selected a team with that pattern in mind(no phillips,SOB or Faletau or second rows like Gray) That pattern wasn’t particularly effective last week where for long stages of the first half we went through multiple phases but couldn’t get over the gain line. It looks like we are going to move the ball around more letting johnny dictate tempo. The back row to run themselves into the ground before switching them for Croft and SOB. Even the second rows he has gone with are suited to mobile play.
      Think Dan Cole was somewhat at fault for the last 2 scrum collapses(5m and Beales last shot) we will have to see how Vunipola does with Jones packing down at tight head.

    • Hard to know where to apportion the blame, the whole thing looked shoddy. By all accuonts Parling has no experience scrummaging behind the tighthead, so that can’t have helped. Vunipola is known to struggle generally, and Dan Cole has been some way off his best form on the tour. And, as you say, Paul O’Connell had a broken arm. Take your pick from that wreckage.

  16. Yes, it seems that there’ll be a different pattern this Saturday, but I would agree with Whiff about needing someone to get over the gainline. The Lions can’t just pass the ball out and hope to get around the Aussies, you still need someone to get over the gainline once in a while. You’re right about the change of plan suiting Johnny and getting the line moving more and the Jones – Vunipola combination will be interesting to see… in the early tour games Vunipola seemed to do fine in the scrum (although I didn’t see all the games).

  17. Saul Evans

     /  June 29, 2013

    Think you’ve now got the Warren Gatland thinking nailed. There was never a Welsh bias, but he does have a strategy he will follow. What is surprising is that he’s deviated slightly from the norm with the Lions. If Croft was Welsh he wouldn’t fit into the Welsh game plan and lose out to Lydiate in the XV and Tipuric in the XXIII..

    Gatland’s big bet, as you call out is sacrificing scrum power with no 2nd row cover on the bench. Was convinced that Evans would come in to provide ballast.

    Beyond that I don’t see us deviating from the tight control game plan, unless an opportunity to break presents itself.

    I’m pretty confidant the Lions will compete far better at the breakdown and starve Genia of both ball and space. Big question is can the loose head and the second row provide the platform needed to execute that plan for 80 minutes?

  18. It is 3.30am in Dublin and just under 9 hours to kick -off time second test in Melbourne. I came home last 20 minutes, drunk frankly, but only slightly. Read comments above (yes, no life) and am now going out to my back garden. nearly 4am now, to configure the gravel and various small pebble into possible back row moves tomorrow. Still worried about our scrum though. Go Lions.

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