Thursday 2 February 2023 Dublin: 9°C
©INPHO/Dan Sheridan George North takes Israel Folau for a ride in Melbourne.
# column
David Wallace: Oz have edge but another burst of North magic could swing it
The former Ireland and Lions flanker questions many of Warren Gatland’s last-ditch squad selections ahead of today’s decider.

LAST WEEKEND IN Melbourne was Australia’s final. They went out there with nothing to lose and you could see how much it meant to them with their captain, James Horwill, crying at the end.

There is a different psychology this week. It is do or die for both sides and you may well find that Australia are not so willing to throw it around and go for broke again.

I’m not too upset about a lot of Warren Gatland’s team selections but he should have made the call on them earlier rather than at the last minute. There are one or two, though, that are wrong calls. Brian O’Driscoll can consider himself most unfortunate but that fairytale end everyone was looking for did not sway Gatland when he came to name his team.

I feel Jamie Heaslip’s omission is worse as he had been enjoying a fine tour in terms of ball carrying, poaching and great work at the breakdown. It is clear to see what road Gatland is going down – he wants big ball carriers to go straight at the Aussies and wear them down. To that end, I can see why Toby Faletau was brought in. He has been the best back row for the Lions in term of carries and he has been under-utilised in the big games on tour.

In my mind, there would have been a certain logic in bringing in Faletau and six with Sean O’Brien at seven and Heaslip retained at eight. All three would provide the carries and breakdown dominance Gatland is looking for. Dan Lydiate has got the shout but he is more of a destructive presence for the opposition rather than a guy who can make gains.

Jonny Sexton, Jamie Heaslip and Brian O’Driscoll. The outhalf is the only man of the three that can directly influence proceedings today. (©INPHO/Dan Sheridan)

The other selection mistake is Richard Hibbard coming in at hooker for Tom Youngs, who had performed fantastically all over the park in the first two Tests. Sure, Youngs went safer at the lineout but we all saw what happened when Hibbard went for the tail near the end of the match last week. The Lions lost the ball in the Wallaby 22.

It is good to see Richie Gray feature on the bench as he has that athleticism, bulk and power that should come in handy as the game progresses. Geoff Parling needs to start though as he is the man making the calls. The lineout needs to function without any distractions.

Mike Phillips is back in as scrumhalf and this is one area where Gatland has been chopping and changing all tour. It certainly doesn’t help the backline. Still, I think it is a good call getting him back in there.

The Lions were guilty of kicking away a lot of possession last week, with Australia running it back at them from all over the park and keeping possession. You’d be worried that they are looking sharper and the aerial, and counter-attack battle is being lost. This is where Rob Kearney’s presence has been sorely missed although you can’t complain with Leigh Halfpenny getting the nod at fullback.

Australia have done the opposite of the O’Driscoll call by making the sentimental pick, in the form of George Smith. By all accounts, and from the bits I’ve seen, he has been in good form in the Super Rugby. However, I felt Michael Hooper and Liam Gill were doing well and this decision could yet haunt [head coach] Robbie Deans.

It’s funny, Smith’s last international game was against Wales, in Cardiff, in 2009. Today he is making his comeback and facing a virtual Welsh side.

The Lions have to go out and grab the game by the scruff of the neck, cut out the loose kicks and get the ball in the arms of the big players. I felt, before the team selections this week, that the Lions were on a losing curve but Gatland has thrown enough changes at it and it remains to be seen if it will benefit them.

Exclusive Six
Nations Analysis

Get Murray Kinsella’s exclusive analysis of Ireland’s Six Nations campaign this spring

Become a Member

It is so tight that I may not make a call until the last possible minute. Australia are the slight favourites and it might come down to a piece of magic from either Israel Folau or George North, the two players that have really lit up the series. I know who I’ll be cheering for.

* will be liveblogging the Lions v Australia action from 10am this morning.


David Wallace runs Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe at the Crescent Shopping Centre. You can follow the latest goings on at the shop here or on Twitter @MrSimmsCrescent

Opinion: It’s understandable why some Irish fans aren’t cheering for the Lions tomorrow*

O’Driscoll recall rumours prove false but Bowe is ‘ready to play rugby’

Your Voice
Readers Comments