Reds v British & Irish Lions, Brisbane, June 8
Lions primed for Reds rumble
June 7, 2013
Lions skipper Sam Warburton will make his tour bow in Brisbane © Getty Images
The British & Irish Lions face the Reds in their latest tour clash at the Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane on Saturday night.
The 2011 Super Rugby champions represent a significant step up for the Lions who were able to coast to an all-too-easy victory over the Barbarians in Hong Kong in their tour opener and notch an equally one-sided victory against the Western Force in their second clash in Perth earlier this week.
With only three more games after this clash before the Lions tackle Australia in the first Test in Brisbane, Warren Gatland's side are in desperate need of a stern test to ensure they are suitable battle-hardened for that crucial date with the Wallabies. And they may well just get that against a Reds side pushing for the Super Rugby play-offs but crucially they will be without their own Wallabies for this game.
However, they are sure to be determined to restore Australian rugby's battered reputation after the Force were widely criticised for fielding an under-strength side against the Lions in midweek. That prompted calls for the Lions to re-consider touring Australia in the future - it falls on the Reds to rubbish those comments with a performance worthy of the occasion.
Reds - Player to Watch: Reds fly-half Quade Cooper has one final chance to convince Australia coach Robbie Deans he warrant a place in his plans for the Lions series - can he deliver when needs to most?
Reds - Team News: Cooper captains a side shorn of seven Wallabies but still including nine internationals in the starting line-up - including centres Anthony Faingaa and Ben Tapuai and props Greg Holmes and Ben Daley - and a further three on the bench with the most familiar name the versatile Radike Samo. Five of the side have featured in all 15 of the Reds' Super Rugby matches to this point, including hooker James Hanson and back-rowers Eddie Quirk and Jake Schatz.
Lions - Player to Watch: Lions captain Sam Warburton has had to sit and watch the likes of Wales' Justin Tipuric and Ireland's Sean O'Brien shine in the No.7 shirt and put down impressive markers ahead of the Test series - can he match their efforts and raise the bar again?
Lions - Team News: Warburton will pack down in an all-Wales back-row alongside blindside Dan Lydiate and No.8 Toby Faletau. Wales prop Gethin Jenkins was also set make his first appearance of the tour but is still troubled by a calf injury and England's Mako Vunipola will now pack down alongside England hooker Tom Youngs and former England prop Matt Stevens in the front row. England's Geoff Parling forms a new second row partnership with Scotland's Richie Gray. Centre Manu Tuilagi and wing Tommy Bowe, who both started the victory over the Force, retain their places in the backs. Tuilagi will partner Wales' Jonathan Davies in the midfield with Wales' Alex Cuthbert returning to the right wing following his two-try showing in Hong Kong. England's Owen Farrell takes over the play-making duties from Ireland's Jonathan Sexton, who drops to the bench, with England's Ben Youngs handed the chance to impress at No.9.
Key Battle: Reds fly-half Quade Cooper certainly has something to prove to the on-looking Wallabies coach Robbie Deans but Lions playmaker Owen Farrell is another under pressure to perform if he is to wrestle the No.10 jersey from Jonathan Sexton. Both players have had the critics of late but also love the big occasion so do not expect either of them to leave anything in the locker with performances packed with tricks and what we hope is controlled aggression.
Trivia: The Reds will be aiming to become the first Australian provincial team to beat the Lions in a tour-game since Queensland famously defeated their rivals 15-11 in their opening tour game of 1971.
Stats: Lions captain Sam Warburton will become the 800th Lions when he makes his tour bow in Brisbane and leads the side for the first time.
Betting: The Lions are an unattractive 1/12 with Bet365 to win the game so how about the visitors to open the scoring with a try at 5/2? Or do you fancy the Reds to cause an upset at 8/1?
"Our approach was always going to be to field as strong a line-up as possible and I've got every confidence in the group we've chosen to go out and compete against a very talented Lions squad."
"I wish the game was tomorrow, really. I am just dying to get on the pitch."
Prediction: This will be a significant step up for the Lions having been able to coast to victory over the Barbarians and the Western Force but they will still power to a convincing win against a gutsy Reds side lacking the star quality of their rivals.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.