British & Irish Lions
Lions squad will not strike fear into Wallabies
May 1, 2013
Warren Gatland (l) should win the verbal battle, but the series will be a tight affair © Getty Images
The British & Irish Lions squad is formidable, but it is well short of being absolutely fabulous. Let's just say the Wallabies aren't exactly quivering.
As expected, Warren Gatland has gone for those he knows, leading to a rich Welsh tinge in the squad, and it is due to this that the Wallabies already hold a considerable psychological advantage.
The core of the Lions squad are players accustomed to losing to Australia, with Wales winless against the Wallabies since November 2008 and defeated in their past eight Test encounters against the green and gold. So the Wallabies will stress that dominant factor when they eventually assemble for what will be a highly combative, keen and mean Test series.
No doubt Gatland will ensure there is a strong Welsh element in the Test line-up, as coaches always prefer those who have performed for them before. So the Wallabies are already primed to encountering those they have exposed in the recent past, in particular during last year's 3-0 series triumph in Australia, where their dominance at the breakdown was crucial.
And they know exactly how the Lions will operate during the tour. Precisely like Wales in the final Six Nations match when - to win the title - they obliterated England in Cardiff by being so overwhelming in the physical battle.
By selecting a large squad - with countless gargantuan forwards and backs, Gatland will ensure that they play combative "in your face" football against the Wallabies, knowing full well that the home team often loses its bearing if the going gets too tough. Gatland will bring out all of his hard-nut New Zealand mentality during this tour, guaranteeing that the tourists will be as aggressive as they were during the fiery, provocative 1989 Lions series in Australia.
Gatland also knows that he should and must win the mind games battle, as he is the master of the quick-quip, while his opposite Robbie Deans invariably opts for the Easter Island statue pose. So expect Gatland, realising full well that Deans won't respond, to grate away at the Wallabies with cleverly directed cheeky statements aimed at dividing the Wallabies camp. Strange as it may seem, even professional footballers can be distracted by someone deliberately stirring the pot.
Gatland and Deans get on, respect each other, but the friendship will be stalled during the three Test series.
Gatland has picked a predictable squad, but it could have been better. Inexperience probably worked against Ireland winger Simon Zebo, but he could have easily been a revelation in Australia. While the chosen Lions wing contingent is solid, it lacks real pizzazz, something that Zebo possesses. England centre Billy Twelvetrees is another who could have provided something different.
And the Lions have probably left their best scrum-half back at home, but Danny Care's chances of making the tour were always going to be hard after spending most of the Six Nations series on the England bench, acting as Ben Young's back-up.
As for England captain Chris Robshaw missing out, that's no real shock as in Australia he is regarded as a bit of a back-row plodder. Those selected ahead of him are considerably better.
The selection of Sam Warburton as captain is no surprise, and he will be an excellent ambassador. As shown on previous Australian tours, Warburton is a perfect gentleman off the field and comprehends the responsibilities of leadership. But the Wallabies are well aware that, not so long ago, Warburton was struggling to hold his spot in the Welsh team, and is liable to form slumps.
Good choices include England prop Mako Vunipola, while the X-factor player in the Lions squad is without doubt England centre Manu Tuilagi. How Tuilagi performs, and whether he can be a dominant midfield force, could easily determine who wins the Lions series.
The original prediction still stands: a one-all series, with the final Test in Sydney on July 6 determining the winner.
Sam Warburton: 'My priority is the team performance'
© ESPN Australia / New Zealand