British & Irish Lions
Gregan fears for Wallabies in first Test
Tom Hamilton in Sydney
June 13, 2013
Gregan hopes Beale can make an impact%]
Wallabies legend George Gregan has conceded the Australian's lack of game time before facing the British & Irish Lions may see the men in green and gold come out of the first Test with a defeat to their name.
The last time the Wallabies lined up for a Test match was at the end of last year when they ran out against Wales. Former No.9 Gregan faced the Lions in 2001 and he is better qualified than most to comment on the state of Australian rugby having won 139 caps for the national side over a 13-year period.
The new crop of Wallabies will look to emulate the victorious 2001 vintage in their three Test series which kicks off against the Lions on June 22 in Brisbane. And while much has been made of the ease at which the tourists have dispatched three of the four sides they have played so far, Gregan admits the Wallabies are also struggling to find that match sharpness.
"It's a worry for sure," Gregan told ESPN. "Nothing beats playing alongside each other. A lot of the Wallabies have played a lot of Super Rugby this season so will be match hardened but there's no substitute for Test matches. Everything is done at a higher level and intensity and until you have experienced that, it is difficult.
"But it's the same for both teams. The Lions, though, will have played alongside each other and will have something to work on from their previous games. The Wallabies last played together on their end-of-season tour last year with a different set of players."
Coach Robbie Deans has had his Wallabies together for the past couple of weeks and he added six more names to the mix on Monday. One of these is Kurtley Beale who got the nod despite missing much of the Super Rugby season due to off-field issues. With Quade Cooper out of the mix, it seems to be a straight shootout between Beale and James O'Connor for the No.10 berth and Gregan favours the former to start at fly-half against the Lions.
"There's been a lot of talk about James O'Connor and Kurtley Beale," Gregan said. "And then there's Christian Lealiifano who has been playing at No.12 for the Brumbies but he has played at fly-half before. So there are a number of options there but I think Lealiifano will play at No.12 which will see him give the fly-half some solid support.
"My preference would be Beale as I like O'Connor as a winger, but that's just my point of view. Beale has had lots of experience playing there at provincial and Test match level. But that's up to Robbie Deans, whoever he does choose at ten I think it's important he has Lealiifano outside him or Berrick Barnes as they provide some good passing options and some good direction."
But while Gregan hopes Beale will get the nod, he wanted to see a different man steering the Wallabies from No.10 - Cooper. "He (Cooper) has a great partnership with Genia and are dangerous in attack," Gregan added. "His decision making and ball running ability is very threatening but when they don't have the ball he has been consistently defending at fullback. In the Wallabies framework they like a fly-half in the frontline so there's always that question mark. I think it's one of those areas which have played against him and maybe some of the decision making in Super Rugby compared to Test matches.
"Maybe he should look to retain the ball and play the defenders a little bit more. Quade can be off-script and turns away from the predictable so maybe that played against him. But look, he's quality player and I would have had him as my fly-half but they will have to make do with what they have."
Once the Lions have played the Waratahs on Saturday and the Brumbies on Tuesday, the next side they will come up against is the Wallabies and Gregan fears the men in green and gold will lose the first Test but come out of the series with a 2-1 triumph.
"I predict Australia will win the series but I think, and I hope the Wallabies prove me wrong, but the first Test might be a bridge too far for them in terms of playing together. This Lions team is looking very formidable and they have a strong winning attitude. But they bounce back well this Wallabies team and I think it will go to game three. But who knows, predictions are predictions."
George Gregan is an HSBC ambassador. HSBC is proud Principal Partner to the British & Irish Lions on their Tour to Australia.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.