British & Irish Lions
Connolly concerned over ref influence
ESPN Staff
April 30, 2013
Australia's Kurtley Beale dives into score the match-winning try, Wales v Australia, Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, Wales, December 1
John Connolly says the Wallabies will need Kurtley Beale's influence to overcome the Lions © PA Photos

Former Australia coach John Connolly believes the Wallabies may be underdone ahead of the first Test against the British & Irish Lions in June and says refereeing will play a major factor in the series outcome.

As reported in The Guardian, Connolly, who spent six years coaching in Europe with Stade Fran├žais, Swansea and Bath, says the Lions hold the advantage with their tight five options.

"Warren Gatland likes his sides to be physical and confrontational and he has a wealth of options in all areas of the pack," he said. "The Wallabies are not as strong at forward as they were in 2001 and the Lions will look to dominate up front and control the line-out. The breakdown will be closely fought and it could come down to the refereeing.

"The way the scrum and breakdown are controlled will be crucial and we saw in the Six Nations that different referees have different approaches. The Wallabies will be smart when it comes to the officials. To me, referees are having too great an influence on matches and they are going to be a factor."

"My fear is that the Wallabies will be a bit rusty going into the first Test. The last Test they played was at the beginning of December in Wales and they will have gone three weeks without a game when the series starts in Brisbane. In contrast the Lions will be battle-hardened after the season in Europe and a series of warm-up matches.

"I do not think the Lions' preparations will be hampered by playing teams in the build-up that are without their leading players. They will make up for that in training and they have had nine months of tough rugby. It is Australia who will be disadvantaged and the Lions will expect to have the physical edge in the first Test.

The Lions, who name their 38-man squad on Tuesday, are firm favourites to win their first series since 1997 and Connolly says Wallabies coach Robbie Deans' best chance of causing an upset lies with his talented backs.

"Robbie is under pressure," Connolly said. "I know the board of the Australian Rugby Union did not unanimously back him after the last World Cup and I am not sure he will survive even if the Wallabies win the series. There are options, not least Ewen McKenzie and Jake White, and the big thing against him is a lack of consistency in selection and in performance.

"He needs to beat the Lions to have any chance of staying on and that will mean bringing back Kurtley Beale and playing Quade Cooper, someone he fell out with last year, at outside-half. They, along with Will Genia, the world's leading scrum-half, are our trump cards but the question is whether we will win enough ball with the Lions very strong in the tight five."

Follow the British & Irish Lions squad announcement live at ESPNscrum from 7pm (EST) tonight

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