x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

British & Irish Lions must try and try until they succeed

The visitors will be well served in getting more possession and penetrate into the enemy lines, writes Paul Radley.

George North passes the ball during a training session of the British & Irish Lions at the Noosa Dolphins Rugby Club. David Rogers / Getty Images
George North passes the ball during a training session of the British & Irish Lions at the Noosa Dolphins Rugby Club. David Rogers / Getty Images

Eighty minutes of rugby separate the British & Irish Lions from either a first series triumph since the band Hanson were top of the charts with Mmmbop in 1997, or their latest heroic defeat.

A variety of factors could influence the outcome either way. Brian O'Driscoll is not one of them.

These are some of the things that the Lions must do today in Sydney:

 

Get it to George North

... or Tommy Bowe. Or anybody past Nos 10 and 12, really.

The Lions were careful to hide some of their cards, namely their attacking plays, in the warm-up matches before the Test series started so Australia could not rumble them. The trouble is, they then forgot the hiding place.

Over the past two Tests they have breached the home try line just twice, and one of them was exclusively due to North's virtuosity rather than anything resembling a planned attack.

Clearly, they can do it. Alex Cuthbert's neatly-orchestrated try in Brisbane in the 23-21 first-Test win is evidence of that. But they need possession and gumption to score tries.

They had neither in Melbourne last week. Australia had 63 per cent of possession and 64 per cent of territory. And they did not even play well.

The ponderous Lions were living on borrowed time if they thought they could rely solely on Leigh Halfpenny's boot. Taking 55-metre shots at goal on the full-time siren is not a Test-winning formula.

Hopefully the return of Jamie Roberts, the powerful inside centre, will help get them over the gainline with more frequency.

 

Smash the scrum

OK, so Australia's tight five is not as bad as it was purported to be. Stephen Moore has excelled at hooker, Benn Robinson has been so good he has even popped up in the loose, and James Horwill has been James Horwill - even when the IRB wanted to erase him.

But, that said, this Wallabies pack is workaday rather than distinguished. With players of the ilk of Adam Jones, the peerless tighthead prop, the Lions should have been dominating the scrum. It is probably more of a failing of the sport than the Lions that they have struggled to get to grips with the refereeing so far in this series.

They know Romain Poite, the Frenchman who will oversee today's encounter, well though as he is a regular Six Nations arbiter.

With Alex Corbisiero, the loosehead prop, returning after a portentous calf injury in place of Mako Vunipola, the away side will feel they have a better chance of getting ahead in the forward game.

 

Have ice on the mind

You may have noticed there is a little bit riding on this fixture. The outcome will bring with it legend status for one set of players, and oblivion for the other.

Which is a burden that could weigh heavy. The Lions players know, more acutely than their rivals, the magnitude of this decider.

The Wallabies will have another Test in a few months time. The Lions will not get the chance to wear the red again for another four years. For many of them, it will be never again. Memories of what happens today will linger long.

Then there is the Brian O'Driscoll stigma. Depending on where you come from the decision to axe the most experienced Lion from his career swansong was either a scandal, a fiasco, treasonous or a justifiable tactical tweak.

If the young Lions can divorce themselves from both prophesies of doom propounded by the BOD-squad, as well as the hullabaloo over the nature of the occasion, maybe they will be able to string a few passes together for once.

pradley@thenational.ae

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