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Tom Croft to edge Sean O'Brien out of Lions back row - Scott Quinnell

The former Wales and Lions international believes Warren Gatland will rely heavily on his touring Welshmen.

David Wallace and Keith Earls tackle Tom Croft in 2011.
David Wallace and Keith Earls tackle Tom Croft in 2011.
Image: ©INPHO/Lorraine O'Sullivan

SCOTT QUINNELL KNOWS all about the enormity of taking on the Wallabies in Australia and he feels the back row battle will be crucial in deciding the winner of the upcoming Lions Series.

The Welshman started all three Test matches against the Aussies in 2001 and still laments the decision to go wide in the Third and deciding Test, allowing home winger Joe Roff to intercept and dot down the match-deciding try. It makes the former No.8 more than comfortable with the physical game-plan that Lions coach Warren Gatland seems to be drawing up following the inclusion of forwards such as Matt Stevens, Dan Lydiate and Dylan Hartley.

The loss of Wallabies star flanker David Pocock has been eased somewhat by George Smith’s rugby renaissance but Quinnell is aware that Robbie Deans will have his back row primed for a war the moment Test-match play commences in Brisbane on 22 June.

The make-up of the Lions’ back row is set to dominate discussions in the weeks leading up to the series and Quinnell, although he expects a constant state of flux, has opted for two Welshmen and an English blindside in his back row. There are no places for Sean O’Brien or Jamie Heaslip. Quinnell told TheScore.ie:

Right now I’d have Toby Faletau, [captain] Sam Warburton and A.N Other. It will probably be Croft, only because he gives you a lineout option. You can drive off that, you can play off that. I thought he did well and has played some great rugby [for Leicester Tigers] since he’s come back from his injury. As a balance, that would be more pick.”

Tom Croft (r) and Tommy Bowe applaud the fans on the 2009 Lions Tour. (©INPHO/Dan Sheridan)

Quinnell, who’s father, Derek, and uncle, Barry John, are both Lions legends, is proud of the 15 Welshemen that Gatland has selected, as part of the 37-man squad, to take on the Wallabies. He believes that the starting XV for the First Test will be mostly Welsh but augmented by the likes of Croft and the Irish backline duo of Jonathan Sexton and Brian O’Driscoll.

“Every time you put that jersey on,” he declared, “there’s a huge amount of pride and passion stirred when you play for the Lions.”

*Scott Quinnell was at the Aviva Stadium today ahead of The Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup finals, which will be live on Sky Sports HD and available on Sky Go, with the Heineken Cup final also in 3D.

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Patrick McCarry

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