Unsurprisingly at the top level of rugby, neither team has named the same side from last Saturday. Despite the battering the Aussie backs took in the first Test, its the Lions that have rung the changes. It's a strange situation given the Lions were victorious but Gatland and co were clearly spooked by how narrow the win was. Robbie Deans will be of a mind that Brisbane was his side's first international in six months and that Australia can only improve as the series progresses.
Mako Vuinipolo for Alex Corbisiero:
A real worry for the Lions after the disaster of the last 10 minute in Brisbane at scrum time. Brought as an impact replacement, Vuinipolo had the wrong kind of impact against the reserve Wallaby front row. After loosing their 3rd loosehead the scrum will be a real worry.
Geoff Parling for Paul O'Connell:
As tough, savvy and durable as Parling is, there's no replacing Paulie in any side. Parling has had a strong tour especially at the lineout but he was packing down in the two Lions scrums that were decimated in the last 10 minutes.
Dan Lydiate for Tom Croft:
The sight of Will Genia ghosting past the Lions blindside to set up Israel Folau's first try was the stuff of Gatland's nightmares. Croft was selected for his lineout skills and threat out wide, neither of which were utilized. It has looked all along that Gatty was going to get Lydiate into his team (otherwise why bring a player with only 3 PRO12 games in 10 months). Lydiate racks up high tackle counts but little else so his selection is looking to shore up the Lions fringe defense against Will Genia. This isn't a tactic that has worked for Wales against Australia recently though. The continued absence Of Sean O'Brien perplexes (and delights Australians).
Ben Youngs for Mike Phillips:
The Welsh scum half has been struggling with a knee injury all tour and was shackled with ease in the first test. Youngs offers a different type of game, using his pace more than power, but his primary role should be serving Sexton and allowing him to run the game.
Tommy Bowe for Alex Cuthbert:
It goes to show the esteem the Ulsterman is held in that he's elevated straight back into the test team, two weeks after breaking his hand. Cuthbert hasn't had a sterling tour (especially in defense) but did score the decisive try last weekend. Bowe brings more subtlety and experience to the backline.
Joe Tomane for Digby Ionane:
Ioane's shoulder injury is big blow (what would they give for Henry Speight to be naturalised already). Rugby league convert Tomane's only cap is last Summer's home loss to Scotland.
Kurtley Beale for Berrick Barnes:
Its not a surprise to see Beale restored to the starting 15. What is surprising is that it's not at outhalf. Discussion has surrounded his choice of footwear but Beale's influence on the game grew as it went on (overshadowing James O'Connor by a distance). Expect him to pop up at first receiver plenty of times.
Christian Leali'ifano for, eh...Christian Leali'ifano:
The inside centre is like a new player after having what must be the shortest debut in international rugby. The Brumbies playmaker was sorely missed last week for his footballing skill at 10 or 12 but more especially from the tee where O'Connor and Beale's missed kicks cost Australia the game.
Gatland’s 2nd test selection is a bold one. He has made 5 changes to the starting line up, including the omission from the 23 of Phillips. No one saw that one coming (except for the outstanding Murray Kinsella.)
Two of the changes are forced through the injuries to Alex Corbisiero and Paul O’Connell, other than Jonny Sexton, and maybe Leigh Halfpenny, the two players that are most difficult to replace. Parling is an able replacement. Excellent at the lineout, he will make life easier for his pint-sized Leicester colleague at the lineout and very difficult for Stephen Moore. But he is not the specimen that Paulie is and other members of the pack will have to step up to compensate for the loss of the Munster legend’s impact at the ruck.
Vunipola will bring a little extra in the loose, although ‘Corbs’ was pretty effective in that regard in Brisbane. However, the Aussie front-row must be delighted to have the Tongan penalty machine facing them in the scrum. I’m not entirely certain that Joubert will ping him like a proper referee should, but if he does, it will be a tough night for the Lions pack.
Mike Phillips has officially been ‘rested’ , and the way he jogged after Genia as the outstanding Aussie pivot broke to set up Folau’s first try after only 12 mins, suggests he needs one. Youngs Jnr will add some zip to the service and should provide Jonny Sexton with much better ball with which to ignite his outside backs. Murray deserves his place on the bench. I have not been his biggest fan in the past due to his ponderous service, but on this tour he has been outstanding and I think you can make a decent case for his being the form scrum-half. His kicking and physicality are certainly well ahead of Youngs’.
Croft’s anonymity at the Suncorp has allowed Gatland to pick his favourite at 6. Lydiate is a fabulous tackler and could make like more difficult for Genia who is clearly the key to the Wallabies game. However, Lydiate offers almost nothing in ball-carrying terms and little more than SOB at the lineout so it is a real gamble. Very few outside the Principality or the twisted mind of the Sunday Time’s award-winning boor, Stephen Jones, think that SOB shouldn’t be in the starting line up and the Aussies will be delighted.
Finally, and most pleasingly, Tommy Bowe makes his miraculous return from injury and slots straight in at the expense of Cuthbert. Fair play to Gatland who clearly recognises class when he sees it, even if the Welsh giant can consider himself very unlucky. The starting back-line will be better for the Ulster winger’s inclusion, although I would be concerned about the lack of any cover at full-back. Clearly Tommy Bowe could cover in the event of 0.5p going off, but his injury means he surely can’t be relied on to be their at that stage. I would have been happier to see Kearney on the bench, or perhaps Hogg, who has probably been ruled out of contention because Gatland has spent the whole tour trying to prove that he is a test-standard fly-half rather than playing him in his proper position.
Incredibly, given the carnage of last Saturday, the Wallabies make only 3 changes to their starting XV, leaving them looking the more settled side. Deans persists with James O’Connor at 10, which I think will be their undoing. A fine player anywhere from 11 to 15, it was clear last Saturday that he is not as good as Beale or Cooper. I suspect that the Kiwi coach’s inability to make up with his mercurial countryman will ultimately cost him his job.
Elsewhere, Beale starts at full-back, which will be a huge improvement over the glass-chinned Barnes, and Leali’ifano resumes at inside centre bringing into question how seriously rugby union treats concussion. It should, however, improve the Aussies’ place-kicking, which was so abject last week. The only other change in the starting XV is the inclusion of Brumbies’ rugby league convert, Joe Tromane on the left wing. Again, given the poor form of Digby Ioane who was obviously unfit, this should improve the Wallabies’ backline.
With Joubert on the whistle, the Lions should be more competitive at the ruck as the South African is much more laissez-faire that Pollock in that regard. But I think that the Lions will struggle in the scrum and the Wallabies will surely contest at least a little at the line-out this weekend. Either way, the tourists will have to improve a lot if they are to clinch the series this weekend. I suspect that Aussies will sneak it setting up a decider in Sydney.
Australia to win by a score.