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Dublin: 7°C Tuesday 9 March 2021

Shane Byrne: Gatland makes a statement as he goes for brute force gameplan

The former Ireland and Lions hooker feels ‘tackling machine’ Dan Lydiate has been drafted in to shut Will Genia down.

Jamie Heaslip cools down after the First Test.
Jamie Heaslip cools down after the First Test.
Image: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

A COUPLE OF things really stood out in the Lions’ narrow First Test win over Australia. They did not use the setpiece advantage when they had it, on the scrum in particular, and they used the bench way too early.

Warren Gatland took off the unit that was there to do a job, before that job was done. Adam Jones is well used to playing full 80 minute games for Wales; there was no need to take him off. It was maybe a bit harsh that Mike Phillips got dropped out of the matchday 23 but, at the same time, it is great for Conor Murray. He’ll definitely get on the pitch tomorrow.

The selection of Tommy Bowe is fantastic too and was always on the cards when he was asked to stick around. I’ve never seen anyone who had an operation on a Lions tour stay out there and get included for a Test match. They obviously wanted him to stay.

The other useful change on the bench is Sean O’Brien. He could’ve realistically started in any one of the back row positions but was an automatic for the bench. He can provide a real impact, in any of the three back row positions, coming off the bench. Dan Lydiate gets the promotion to blindside and is a tackling machine.

Lydiate’s conclusion is Warren Gatland making a statement. They are going for a much more physical and confrontational gameplan. Lydiate, too, is there to curb Will Genia. When you get to a ruck and are the first defender, like Lydiate will often be, your job, ahead of everything else, is to track the scrumhalf.

As for Genia, My God, he was absolutely fantastic. The best scrumhalf in the world accolades are well deserved.

Gaining control

The First Test, although they squeaked the win, was one the Lions just couldn’t get control of. You were thinking they were in the ascendancy then you would look at the scoreboard and think ‘Jesus, we’re not in good shape here’.

Jamie Heaslip had a fine game and got through an unbelievable amount of work but there was one obvious time [in front of the Wallaby posts] when he lost the ball at the back of the scrum. The other scrum, near the end [for the final Kurtley Beale penalty], was hard to blame him on as the scrum was shoved back. However, at some points you have to just dive on the bloody ball.

Israel Folau was an absolute revelation and is a player we will be hearing about for a long time. George North was excellent going forward but should have pushed him out wide in defence a few times, especially for the first try. That should be some duel in Melbourne.

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Jonathan Sexton had a superb game and controlled his backline very well. He added a different edge and angle to nearly every attack he joined.

Paul O’Connell, as many people have noted at this stage, is a huge loss. Tom Croft is on the bench as the second row cover but he is a lineout specialist and would do a good job in there if called upon. The only issue I would have with it would be what happens, and who calls the shots, if Geoff Parling picks up an injury early doors.

The 1-0 advantage will mean little come kick-off. The series is still completely up in the air. The Lions couldn’t get away from Australia last week and will need to up their game again to get the win.

*Shane Byrne’s publication, Club Rugby Magazine is available monthly in the Irish Independent. You can also follow Shane on Twitter @shanebyrneoffic

‘If the Lions don’t win tomorrow, I fear for the series’ – David Wallace

‘What James Horwill did was far from an accident’ – Shane Byrne

About the author:

Shane Byrne  / Former Irish international

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