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Dublin: 17 °C Tuesday 23 July, 2019
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3 new Wallabies that the Lions will look to savage…

Lions fan and rugby blogger Shane O’Leary takes a closer look at Australia’s three new caps to face the Lions tomorrow.

Image: INPHO/Billy Stickland

THE DAY OF reckoning is finally coming, and after days, months and years of pub talk, pundit arguments and Twitter rows, Dingo and Wazza have named their teams. Let’s get it on.

While the debate on the Lions team focuses around the omission of Conor Murray and Sean O’Brien, Robbie Deans has named an Australia side, which, despite some key injuries, looks like it can definitely do a job on the tourists. Shorn of leader Pocock and others, the Wallabies 15 is still packed with quality. A settled front five, two in form scavengers in Gill and Hooper and a plethora of backline playmaking options sees a stark contrast to the corresponding areas on the Lions team.

On the other hand, Australia bring three new caps into the white hot heat of test rugby, and the Lions will surely be targeting the ‘greenhorns’ in Brisbane. With all that said, what do we know about the Aussie new boys?

Christian Lealiifano

Now this is a ballsy option from the Aussie management. The green and gold fans traditionally like their playmakers to mix and match in different roles, and this backline has three, in O’Connor, fullback Barnes and first centre Lealiifano. Keeping the bulkier McCabe and Horne out of the team at 12 is no mean feat for the Brumbie, and illustrates an attacking gameplan.

Along with his 9/10 combo, the diminutive Brumbie ‘Lilo’ holds the keys to unlocking the Lions defence, and has been perhaps likelier to start since the withdrawal of Welsh monster Jamie Roberts. An archetypal ‘second 5/8th’, the 5’10 Lealiifano kicks for goal when needed, and will step in at 10 too, taking some of the pressure off others. Other key parts of his game include stunningly quick feet and a smart rugby brain.

Of course, these attributes could cause some mayhem for the Lions off quick ball, but concurrently, numerous utility backs on the pitch, along with Beale to come off the bench, may confuse matters. We’ll see.

Ben Mowen

The second new Brumbies cap is franchise captain Ben Mowen. A 28 year old blindside or number 8 by trade, Mowen is a languid lineout leader, who will almost certainly go toe to toe with Tom Croft in the jumping stakes. (Interestingly, Croft will have more Lions caps than Mowen has Oz caps)

At 28, Big Ben is an interesting choice by Deans, in a position where each of Scott Higginbottom (injured) Hugh Mcmeniman and Dave Dennis (who played 14 tests for Oz in 2012) could have expected to start less than a month ago. Mowen’s aerial prowess in particular, along with a strong offloading and powerful running game are the key traits which have won him the jersey, and the decision also has ramifications for second row, where the more powerful Kane Douglas gets the nod over Simmons.

Standing at 1.95cm, the former Queensland Red and Waratah spoke recently of his decision not to fly the coop to Japan last year, favouring another crack at test rugby. Having put on almost 5kg and flourished for the Brumbies, Mowen’s chance has finally come. Watch out for similaries with opposing number 8 Jamie Heaslip, particularly in terms of footwork, and don’t be surprised if this guy steals Lions’ lineout ball or gets launched from number 8 should the Oz scrum going well.

Israel Folau

A former international in rugby league and AFL superstar for a season, Folau is one of those supreme athletes that can put their hand to anything, and could set this series alight. From looking like a complete novice at times early in the his debut union season, both positionally and in terms of rule knowledge, the 23 year old has blossomed into a fullback of note, with a devastating and deceptive turn of foot.

A complete footballer with speed, footwork and excellent catching and kicking skills, Folau and his neighbor Ioane bring an X Factor to the Oz backline, which should worry the Lions. Having made only 14 appearances for the Waratahs, some have mooted the possibility that Folau’s inclusion is an attempt to drum up hype and support in a country where rugby union is said to be dying a slow death.

However, the athleticism and big game experience (albeit in different codes), will ensure George North could wake up in a panicked cold sweat come Friday night.

Don’t take your eyes off ‘Izzy’.

YouTube: Aotearoa628

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Shane O'Leary

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