I am anticipating another close game when the Lions face Australia in the second test in Melbourne on Saturday. It could come down to the kicking again, but I’m backing the boys to seal a series win with one match to spare.
It's all very well saying that if the Lions lose this one then they’d have another chance to win the series, but all the momentum would be with Australia by that stage. All you have to do is look at the history of recent tours, with the team that has lost the first Test invariably going on to win the series. I think the game will be very close again, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Lions trailing going into the last ten minutes.
The standard of kickers in the UK is quite unbelievable right now – a lot of these guys just don’t seem to miss. Leigh Halfpenny was tremendous last Saturday and Owen Farrell kicked beautifully again in the midweek friendly.
I’m a keen golfer and when it comes down to the Ryder Cup and the majors, the best players just trust their technique, and that’s what the Lions’ kickers must continue to do. It could come down to a kick in the last two minutes again, and I’m very confident our guys will be up to the task.
Had one of those kicks gone over last week and the Lions not won, it would have been a real downer for them. The opening six games were only a prelude to the opening Test and, having won that first Test and all but one of their games on the tour, they should approach Saturday night’s game in confident mood.
But the Lions are making five changes, with two of those the enforced withdrawals of Paul O’Connell and Alex Corbisiero.
Warren Gatland has stuck his head on the line by making five changes to a winning team, but I think he is right. As mentioned, two of those changes are enforced, but to change a third of the team is a hell of a lot. However, you have to pat Gatland on the back because he recognises that, although we squeaked a win last week, we need to make changes because we honestly were not good enough in some areas.
I think Australia surprised the Lions in the 1st test, particularly with their performance up front. It’s been clear to me that Gatland has placed an emphasis on the Lions’ forwards seeking dominance against every opposition.
The Australians found parity at the scrums and line-outs last week, which will have concerned Gatland. And, with the loss of O’Connell a major contributing factor, it remains to be seen whether the Lions can cope. Corbisiero will also be missing through injury and it looks as though there will be a couple of further tactical changes. I was slightly surprised to hear that Dan Lydiate comes in for Tom Croft, who I thought played very well last week.
I’m also a little surprised to see Mike Phillips dropped from the team altogether, albeit with the official word being that he is rested. Tommy Bowe comes in, but again I feel Alex Culthbert can consider himself unlucky having scored that superb try last week. But Bowe is an excellent player too and, provided he feels no effects from his broken hand, I’m sure he’ll add to the strength of the Lions.
As things stand, I feel the Lions are slightly weaker than they were going into last week’s game. As for Australia, they won’t have lost sight of what they need to do and will be fired up ready to level things. Their scrum wasn’t as weak as some people thought last week and I can’t see it being any weaker this time around.
One lovely little side story is that the Youngs brothers will become the first brothers to play in tandem for the Lions since a little known duo called the Hastings brothers! I thought Tom Youngs played very well last week and Ben Youngs has had a very good tour. It’s 24 years since myself and my brother Scott turned out for the Lions, and it will be a very proud day for their parents. I'm delighted for them.
I always thought it was an advantage to play in the same side as my brother, because we had an instinct of what the other was going to do. It wasn’t quite telepathic, but I always saw it as an advantage and I’m sure the Youngs brothers are no different. With Ben feeding the ball into the scrum and Tom working in close partnership, that understanding could be an advantage for the Lions.
There have been plenty of column inches on Wallabies captain James Horwill and, I must say, it’s a big surprise to me that the IRB will put him on trial again for stamping. I think it’s all a bit unnecessary and I haven’t heard anything from the Lions, who seemed accepting of the decision. But I don’t think it will put a shadow over the game or anything like that.
In terms of who I’d look out for, I’d back George North to score the opening try (available at 11.00 with Unibet). He’s a powerful boy, he moves well and has shown great hunger. He has been in excellent form and it’s clear Australia found him difficult to handle last time out.
I’ll back the Lions to win by one or two points (available at 5.50 with Unibet). They might be trailing late on and may have the opportunity to kick a winner, and I’m backing the Lions to get the win with a score of around 22-20.
Scottish rugby union legend Gavin Hastings captained the British Lions in the 1993 tour to New Zealand and top scored in that series with 38 points. He is a Unibet Armchair Expert and will be providing us with his thoughts on this year's tour as part of Unibet's UK Summer of Sport.
Back George North to score the opening try at 11.00
Back the Lions to win by up to five points at 5.50