British & Irish Lions
Sharpe: 'Aussies will get stuck into Lions'
Tom Hamilton in Perth
June 5, 2013
Australia captain Nathan Sharpe lifts the Cook Cup, England v Australia, Twickenham, England, November 17, 2012
Nathan Sharpe lifts the Cook Cup in November © PA Photos

Former Wallabies lock Nathan Sharpe has warned the British & Irish Lions to expect plenty of physicality during their games prior to the Test series against Australia.

Sharpe, who retired from professional rugby ahead of the current Super Rugby campaign, faced the Lions back in 2001 for the Reds and made his debut for Australia the following year. Since then he won 116 caps for the men in green and gold and currently holds a consultancy position within the national side's backroom staff.

In the build up to Wednesday's match between the Lions and the Force, the Australians upped the physical ante while national boss Robbie Deans said the Perth franchise will look to take the Lions apart "limb by limb".

And Sharpe believes the Lions will continuously come up against opponents who will want to play to the physical limits of the game. "In the midweek games I'd imagine the skill level is going to be lop-sided towards the Lions," said Sharpe. "But I look back on the 2001 tour and there were a lot of midweek games where guys who had never played for the Wallabies were given a go.

"I've got memories of good fisticuffs, good punch-ups: Duncan McRae [while playing for the Waratahs] and Justin Harrison - who ended up playing for the Wallabies in the last Test - having run-ins with Austin Healey during the Brumbies game. The Lions are pumped up and they don't have any injuries but as the tour progresses each provincial side is going to take a little nibble out of them. It's about the guys who are picked getting stuck in.

"No one is saying the guys making their debut for the Force will be better than someone like Brian O'Driscoll. But the one great leveller in rugby is the physical element; it's the will to win that dictates most results. You can have all the skill but you have to have that attitude. I love all that, I want all the teams to get stuck in and create an us-versus-them mentality. In a way all the guys who play against the Lions in these tour games are representing Australia too. It is a very proud moment for them."

Sharpe's previous side the Force have fielded a much-changed side for the Lions on Wednesday evening with coach Michael Foley having to juggle two matches in five days. The Force have come in for some criticism for this selection decision, with some deeming the Lions facing weakened sides as something which devalues their warm-up games, but the lock says it is just part of the modern game.

"I think the midweek games are sensational," Sharpe added. "They build such interest around the community. Look, it's not a perfect world. There will be times when the franchises have their own agenda. NSW and Queensland will be fielding full-strength without their Wallabies. But that's fair enough as they have been busting it out for 15 weeks straight and it would be ridiculous to have them playing still a couple of weeks before the Lions series. Also, take themselves out of possibility of more injury."

Nathan Sharpe will take a backroom role for the 2013 Lions series © Getty Images

It could all have been very different for Sharpe had he accepted a speculative offer from Graham Henry to play for Wales before he was picked by the Wallabies. He qualified for the men in red through his grandfather, but it was never a feasible option.

"I sat down and had a coffee with him [Graham Henry] in Brisbane...I'm not sure what year it was but I had a full head of hair at the time. I'd been playing Super Rugby for a year or two and had the usual disillusionment of youth in terms of not getting where you want to be straight away. I considered it for a week and my old man snuck in and said 'Pull your head in."

With Sharpe now spending his time split between the Wallabies and media duties, he will take his place in the stands for the Lions tour and he is relishing the chance to see it start in earnest.

"It's a tremendous opportunity for Australia. There are so many games that you're supposed to win and you don't, or you're not supposed to win and you do. I think it'll be immense and I'm not even playing."

Nathan Sharpe is an HSBC spokesperson. HSBC is proud Principal Partner to The 2013 British & Irish Lions on their Tour to Australia.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.

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