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18th Jun 2013

We have a go at picking the team Warren Gatland will select against the Wallabies

Defeat was their lot today, but the Lions team chosen by Warren Gatland against the ACT Brumbies will bear little resemblance to the side that takes to the field in Brisbane this Saturday.


Defeat was their lot today, but the Lions team chosen by Warren Gatland against the ACT Brumbies will bear little resemblance to the side that takes to the field in Brisbane this Saturday.

The 14-12 loss in Canberra has given the selectors plenty to think about with the lineout and breakdown at times pretty awful.

Rory Best had a night to forget and when an all-new frontrow was introduced things seem to improve considerably with the scrum also a lot steadier.

Like the rest of the team, the half-backs did not put their best feet forward, primarily as they spent so much time on the back foot while the backrow was not as commanding as we had seen in previous games.

Sean O’Brien came off in the second half and while Rob Kearney grew into the game, he too found the first half tough going as the Brumbies exerted their control on proceedings.

As an attacking threat, Brad Barritt offered as little as we expected while Shane Williams bows out of the game yet again. But you can never be too sure with the Mitsubishi Dynabors man, who didn’t provide the charge required.

Here are the XV we expect Gatland to pick for the first Test in Brisbane, including eight Welshman, four Irishmen, two Englishmen and a solitary Scot. Let us know what you think of the selection.

15. Leigh Halfpenny

An easy choice to begin with. Not only a guaranteed starter, will be the designated kicker thanks to 22 kicks from 23 attempts on tour. While Rob Kearney will hope to stake a claim for one of the Tests, only injury to the Welshman will see him starting in the full-back position.

NSW Waratahs v British & Irish Lions

14. Alex Cuthbert

The giant Welsh wing has had a mixed-bag so far, but the pros far outweigh the cons. His ball carrying is more noticeable in his absence and Gatland will want to see the Cardiff man get over the gainline. Also has a knack of scoring in the big games.

13. Brian O’Driscoll

He had a decent run out in his last outing, a full 80 minutes under his belt. He could have had a poor game – a rare occurrence – and he would still be starting team such is his importance. His role even more crucial in the absence of the injured Jamie Roberts.

12 Jonathan Davies

Injury to Roberts means there is no natural inside centre available to Gatland and it is a battle between Manu Tuilagi and Jonathan Davies. The Welshman has had a steady tour, filling in at both 12 and 13 and his guile may just give him the nod over Tuilagi who could be held in reserve as an impact substitute.

NSW Waratahs v British & Irish Lions

11. Sean Maitland

This is a real dilemma for the selectors. We have to assume that George North will not win his battle to be fit, joining Tommy Bowe on the sidelines. That should mean a choice between the versatile Sean Maitland and Simon Zebo. While we are obviously biased, Zebo offers that extra sparkle in attack and the Scottish international has not looked as threatening with ball-in-hand. One suspects Gatland will go with the more conservative choice on the left wing.

10. Jonathan Sexton

He may not have the kicking duties, but so much will rest on his shoulders at the Suncorp Stadium on Saturday. Unlike Stuart Hogg today, he can carry the ball into contact and will look to bring the backs into play at every opportunity. Could prove to be the difference between the sides.

9. Mike Phillips

As match-ups go, his battle will Will Genia will be fascinating. Different types of players, but equally as important to their team. Phillips will be like a backrow forward when the Lions are on the back foot. Sure he would eat himself if he were chocolate, but he is the best nine in the squad, with Conor Murray hoping for a place on the bench.

1. Mako Vunipola

For so long it looked like Cian Healy would be wearing the number one jersey, but injury has robbed the Lions of their most dynamic prop. In Mako Vunipola they probably have the next best ball carrier in the front row and has taken his opportunity well. We’re hoping he will stand up to the challenge of the scrum, time will soon tell.

NSW Waratahs v British & Irish Lions

2. Richard Hibbard

Without sounding harsh, this position seems to be going to the player who performs least badly, which means Hibbard should just shade this over Tom Youngs. Rory Best had a nightmare and Tom Youngs has been impressive so far, but Gatland is more likely to plump for the more experienced Welshman.

3.  Adam Jones

Like Halfpenny at full-back, Adam Jones is a nailed on starter. Like Jonathan Sexton, he is absolutely crucial to success in the series. He offers very little in the loose, and isn’t the most hard-working prop at ruck time, but in the scrum he is worth his weight in gold.

4. Paul O’Connell

The spiritual leader of the side and will be methodically plotting the lineout all week. His presence alone will add to the psychological warfare. Will have his troops primed for battle before the game, regardless of having the skipper’s armband.

5. Alun Wyn-Jones

Geoff Parling has done little wrong and seems to be gathering the reputation as an impact sub. Richie Grey has been only okay, similar to his Six Nations form, and Jones is expected to get the nod. He will be keen to atone for his disappointment in South Africa where he started the first Test with O’Connell before being called ashore early. Has developed his game since then and is now one of the leaders in the pack. Expect a big game.

6. Tom Croft

While we would love to see Sean O’Brien in the fray, and Dan Lydiate will take down anything in sight, it is hard to argue with the choice of Croft. Has a lot more to his game than just a lineout option, is a good ball runner and loves to get involved in the physical exchanges. A couple of tries like he got against the Springboks the last time out would do nicely.

7. Sam Warburton

If it were our choice, we would go with Justin Tipuric on the basis that he is fully match-fit, and arguably in better form. But this is why we are where we are and Gatland is paid the big bucks. We expect the Welsh captain to get the nod. Whether he will last the 80 minutes remains to be seen, but he will leave nothing on the pitch…apart from bruised Wallabies hopefully.

8. Jamie Heaslip

This could be the toughest call of the lot. Toby Faletau was simply outstanding against the Brumbies and never shirked his duties, especially when the Lions were on the back foot for long periods of the game. Heaslip has played well and carried his end of season form to Australia, while also offering a lineout option that Faletau doesn’t. Could really be the toss of a coin, but given the fact the Welshman started in Canberra, we think that points to the Leinster man’s inclusion.
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