Greg Growden writes ...
Scott Higginbotham's injury hurts Wallabies
Greg Growden
June 3, 2013
Robbie Deans say the Lions are formidable

First weekend goes to the British & Irish Lions, who arrive in Perth with everyone intact and delighted to have escaped the Hong Kong sauna for a far drier clime while the Wallabies remain a troubled and under-resourced mob.

Intensity wise, the Lions' effort in Hong Kong against a Barbarians rabble had nothing on a pugnacious and sometimes nasty Super Rugby round; but that intensity came at an enormous price, with the Wallabies losing one of their most combative performers who would have had an enormous impact on the tourists - Scott Higginbotham.

The most depressing moment for Australian followers on the weekend was not the sight of New South Wales Waratahs deflating in Christchurch, or Quade Cooper involved in the giddiest of roller-coaster performances in Brisbane, but that of Higginbotham departing during the Queensland Reds-Melbourne Rebels match with a dislocated shoulder.

As bad was discovering the following day that Digby Ioane had also lost his spot in the Wallabies training squad, due to uncertainty over how long it will take to recover from his left knee cartilage operation.

If the Wallabies are to have any hope of troubling the Lions, Higginbotham and Ioane must be there for every Test; without them, the home side looks an inferior brand. Sitaleki Timani, another on the injured list, can be replaced. That has been achieved adequately through the inclusion of his Waratahs lock partner Kane Douglas, who has shown in his Test appearances that he is up to the pressure and can be as authoritative as Timani at scrum time. Douglas also knows how to run a lineout. But Higginbotham, easily the form No.8 among the Australian provinces, has shown this season that the responsibilities of leadership have made him a more rounded, committed and match-changing performer.

The reds beat the Rebels, but Australia lost Scott Higginotham (video available only in Australia)

Without Higginbotham, who is always on the front-foot, and who refuses to be intimidated, the Wallabies pack is short of aggressive hard men - the type of player to whom Lions coach Warren Gatland was referring after the Hong Kong match when he warned his men of the dangers of retaliating, especially when in Australia. A lot of Wallabies huff and puff about being tough but then jump at their own shadow when it gets edgy. Higginbotham is not one of those: he instead holds his ground; likes a good old-fashioned scuffle; has a presence, and uses it to good effect - as numerous referees have discovered this year.

As for Ioane, his exclusion from the Test backline robs it of surprise. Without Ioane, the back three will lack an experienced edge.

No one is sure how long Higginbotham or Ioane will be sidelined, but Wallabies coach Robbie Deans will give them every encouragement if there is a chance they can recover in time for any Test match.

Deans still has to work out whether he should select James O'Connor at No.10 after a second-gear performance against the Reds, invite Cooper back into the fold, or go left field and bring Kurtley Beale in over the top of everyone - which is most likely to happen. But at least he knows who won't be the Lions pivot.

The Lions mauled the Barbarians (video available only in australia)

Owen Farrell had first chance against the Barbarians, but he fluffed his lines. It was the moment to dazzle, especially as the listless opposition, who looked as if their preparation was several nights of going Bonkers in Honkers, appeared eager to give the Lions a leg up. But Farrell had the jitters. And once again, he showed he could be provoked. It happened during the Six Nations, and now the Barbarians succeeded in unsettling him when Schalk Brits put one on his chin. Farrell reacted in one of the few emotional moments of this dull affair.

The most telling line about the Hong Kong meander appeared on Twitter, via Horrotahs, a send-up of the endless official Waratahs tweetathon.

Tough call, but you can understand the sentiment. Unlike the Waratahs aka Horrotahs, who couldn't get the job done in Christchurch, the Lions did, with the Welsh contingent in particular enjoying a glorified training run. The standard was "appalling" at times, but there were more than enough positives on show for the Lions to be in the right frame of mind when the tour turns serious in Perth this week.

© ESPN Australia / New Zealand

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