IT PAINS ME to say it but I think the Lions blundered in picking Sam Warburton for today’s first Test. I know he is the captain and a wonderful player – but I would have Justin Tipuric at No7.
Referee Chris Pollock officiated in England’s Test against Argentina in Salta and was not interested in a contest at the breakdown.
If he referees the same way in Brisbane – and I expect him to – it will neutralise one of Warburton’s main strengths.
There are few better players over the ball than Warburton, fighting for turnovers or slowing possession, but Mr Pollock is unlikely to allow this.
All he seems to want from a breakdown is quick ball and, this being the case, Tipuric offers more around the field for the Lions as a link player.
It is a case of horses for courses and the Lions have missed a trick in leaving him out.
I would also have liked to see Simon Zebo on the wing instead of Alex Cuthbert, to keep Australia guessing on the Lions’ attack.
George North and Cuthbert are very similar players, while Zebo offers something different and asks a few more questions.
Don’t get me wrong, Cuthbert does what he does very well – he is strong, athletic and a great finisher – but he is fortunate to play.
There have also been eyebrows raised about Alex Corbisiero’s inclusion given he did not make the original squad, but the Lions have got it right in the front row.
Corbisiero has not played a lot of rugby this year because of knee problems but he was England’s No1 loosehead before injury and they struggled without him.
Australia have their first-choice props Benn Robinson and Ben Alexander available and the Lions are right to start their best scrummagers in Corbisiero and Adam Jones on either side of Tom Youngs.
In Mako Vunipola and Dan Cole, they have tremendous options off the bench to add power and impetus late on.
The absence of Jamie Roberts and Manu Tuilagi in midfield may concern some but I am very happy with Brian O’Driscoll and Jonathan Davies, who has really come to the fore on this tour and reminds me of Richard Hill in England’s World Cup-winning side.
He did not get mentioned a lot but suddenly everyone seemed to realise how good he was and how instrumental he was to the team.
Davies is a real all-rounder and would have been in my side whatever. For all Manu’s attributes – and he has plenty – he still has to work on his distribution and the tactical side.
Australia have kept their powder dry ahead of the series and will have something up their sleeves – you can be sure of that.
It will be horribly tight but I take the Lions to win a nail-biter – 28-25.