x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Rugby union: Backs to wall for British & Irish Lions in Canberra

Wade, Barritt and Twelvetrees will start as depleted side will face ACT Brumbies.

England player Christian Wade ihas been called up by the Lions.
England player Christian Wade ihas been called up by the Lions.

MELBOURNE // The British & Irish Lions' hopes of victory in their last tour match before facing Australia will be tested by a hastily assembled backline and an ACT Brumbies side keen to inflict a timely psychological blow in Canberra tomorrow.

Like all the provincial sides thrown to the Lions, the Brumbies will front up with a starting XV robbed of their best Wallabies players but under strict orders to leave the tourists bruised, if not beaten, after full-time at Canberra Stadium.

The Lions notched up their fifth win from five tour matches against New South Wales Waratahs on Saturday, running out 47-17 winners at Sydney Football Stadium, but the emphatic victory extracted a toll.

Centre Jamie Roberts was left nursing a suspected hamstring strain and has joined England centre Manu Tuilagi in the treatment room, leaving the Lions vulnerable in midfield.

With Welshman George North also nursing hamstring concerns and fellow winger Tommy Bowe injured with a broken hand, Lions coach Warren Gatland has padded out his backline with a clutch of fly-ins led by 36-year-old Welshman Shane Williams.

The former Wales winger, who toured with the Lions in 2005 and 2009 and retired from international rugby at the end of 2011, flies in from Japan, where he is playing club rugby, and will slot in for just the one match before leaving the squad to do media work.

Englishman Christian Wade, shipped in from Argentina, starts on the opposite wing, with Brad Barritt, arriving from the United States and starting at centre. England's Billy Twelvetrees starts at inside centre against the two-time Super Rugby champions.

The cobbled-together backline, albeit complemented by a still-formidable forward pack, offers the Brumbies arguably the best chance of the Australian provincial sides to beat the Lions, before the first Wallabies Test on Saturday.

"We realise it's going to be tough on a few players, but there's some combinations with experience we looked at," Gatland told reporters in Sydney yesterday. "Billy and Brad know each other pretty well, Shane Williams will obviously come in.

"Having worked with him for a long time, I think he'll fit in pretty well with our game plan and will understand what we're trying to do, so there's some combinations and players who have been there, done that before and knowing what's expected of them." Brumbies coach Jake White said his side have no intention of being cannon fodder and need only watch footage of their 2001 effort for inspiration.

The Brumbies were gallant 30-28 losers at the same stadium after utility back Austin Healey saved the Lions' blushes with a late try.

"This is a huge occasion for us as a team, but also individually," said White, who coached South Africa to their 2007 Rugby World Cup triumph. "The Lions are one of rugby's last romantic sides, there is plenty of history there and we know that beating the Lions will go down in Canberra's rugby folklore for many years to come."

* Reuters