Queensland Reds 12 - 22 Lions
Lions v Reds
8 Jun 13
Review by Ulster Nerd
At last, the phoney war is over and the Lions tour has kicked off with a truly magnificent encounter at the Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane. It is some time since I have enjoyed a game of rugby as much as this one. Perhaps it’s because of the abject quality of the first two games of the tour but, nonetheless, this was a cracker. This was due in no small part to the sublime Quade Cooper. Love him or loathe him, surely every rugby lover would want to see him in Gold in 2 weeks’ time back in Brisbane? I enjoyed the way he played the game so much that I was shouting for the Reds at the end of the match – a draw would have been a fair result. (Does this make me a bad person?)
Of course my enjoyment was spoiled almost immediately by news of the injury to Tommy Bowe. It didn’t look good as soon as he did it but I hoped it might have been a stinger. However, the mood worsened significantly when Will Greenwood reported the Monaghan man’s wrist being heavily strapped and his body language suggesting a tour threatening injury. It is a horrible end to a year in which he has recovered from 2 serious injuries to regain world-class form. His performance today was magnificent. The break to set up the Cuthbert near miss (is it just me or could he have done better?) was sublime – strength, speed and fantastic balance combined to slice open the Reds defence and put the Welsh lighthouse away. This came moments after a superb try-saving tackle, made to look even better when compared with the poor defending of Cuthbert on the other wing: the Cardiff star’s turning circle approximates to that of a super tanker and his defensive frailties give real cause for concern.
There is little doubt that Bowe had all but nailed down one of the wingers’ berths with the sublime George North just ahead of him. The Saints-bound youngster, so abject against Ulster for the Scarlets only 4 weeks ago, was scintillating. The break that nearly put Warburton away was even better than Bowe’s earlier effort and the off-load to Farrell which led to the Sarries fly half losing the ball on the line, was as good as anything Sonny Bill could muster.
Luke Morahan, whose intervention, denied Farrell, had a dream performance for someone looking to catch the eye of Robbie Deans ahead of the Ozzie coach’s selection of the final six. His try was one of the best we have seen all season. Catching a poor kick from the distinctly ordinary (place-kicking apart) Owen Farrell, he evaded Cuthbert and then flew past Warburton (whose effort was disappointing for a ‘world-class’ 7) and sped clear to touch down under the posts. He was a constant menace throughout the first half, putting a serious dent in Cuthbert’s test hopes.
Morahan was awarded man of the match, a fair decision, but I would have given it to Cooper whose superb long passes kept him and Rocket Rod Davies in the game and stretched the Lions almost to breaking point. Indeed, if the Reds had been able to field a front row that could scrummage or a half decent lineout the Lions could have been in real trouble before half time. If you’re getting out-scrummaged by two thirds of the Saracens’ front row that was schooled by Ulster and humbled by Toulon, you’ve got problems. I really can’t see the Wallabies’ set piece being anywhere near as bad as that.
For the Lions, Tom Youngs went well and is a real contender for a test start. His brother Ben had an excellent outing, although I suspect that Gatland’s preference for the Phillips’ style means that he will be on the bench behind the Welshman or Murray. Gray was secure at the re-starts and out of touch and was particularly industrious around the park. He must be in the running to accompany POC in the 2nd row. Faletau was solid as ever in defence and had a few decent trots but was careless with the ball in contact. Jonathan Davies was solid but unspectacular, and I can’t see past Jamie Roberts and BOD reprising their centre partnership of 4 years ago.
Despite the excellent result (and it certainly was because the Reds really gave it a lash), there are some major concerns for the Lions. Warburton wouldn’t be in most people’s test 23 yet, as skipper, he will probably start. Tipuric is the clear front-runner for the 7 shirt, whilst SOB and Croft would probably be ahead of him at 6. (Lydiate’s tackling remains outstanding although he brings little else.) Gatland’s other controversial selection – only bringing 2 fly halves – is looking increasingly poor. Farrell kicked well again, maintaining the Lions’ perfect record off the tee in Australia. However, his game management is poor. The Reds were dominant in open play but being hockeyed in the set piece, yet ’son-of-Andy’ didn’t have the nous to kick for the corners and allow the Reds to throw it to Richie Gray. It was notable that J10 did just that with almost his first touch. Some of Farrell’s tactical kicking was ordinary and he just is nowhere near as sharp as Jonny. In his defence, I’m sure few stand-offs would have looked good by comparison with Cooper and Sexton, but I would worry for the Lions were Farrell to start. Worse still, Hogg, who was little more than OK at fullback, found himself at 1st receiver under little pressure and looked flustered, hurriedly slicing a Garryowen into no-man’s land. There is nothing to suggest that he is a realistic option at 10. If Gatland has any sense he will call for Madigan (that boy’s got cojones) to replace Bowe, on the assumption that Bob has recovered from his hamstring strain.
In the front row, whilst dominant for most of the first half, Vunipola showed why he is an impact player and Stevens confirmed that his physique is not the result of endless hill reps. Both tired badly early in the second half and started to make the Reds scrum look half-decent. My money is firmly on Corbisiero doing an Easterby.
So the Lions tour is up and running and the Sky team at last can use hyperbole without sounding like complete [email protected]£ts. Let’s hope Robbie Deans sees sense and we can have more of the same.
And get well soon Tommy Bowe.