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Five things the 2013 Lions can learn from the Autumn internationals

December 6th, 2012 by · No Comments · Features

England’s spectacular defeat of the All Blacks has put a new perspective on the home nations’ 2013 tour of Australia

1 Defeat of All Blacks will boost belief

Australia have been beaten by England, Ireland and Scotland in the last two years. Wales would have joined them on Saturday but for their unparalleled ability to squander winning positions and the Wallabies will have no warm-up Tests before the start of the Lions series in June. If the Celtic unions have been fallible against the top southern hemisphere sides in the professional era, from a mental rather than a physical perspective, England have tended to be stronger and their victory over New Zealand, below, is crucial for Warren Gatland in terms of belief. Had the men in white lost, the autumn tally would have been: home unions 0 Sanzar 8. If 1-7 does not sound much better, England outplayed the All Blacks up front, at the breakdown and behind.

2 Tuilagi is centre of attention

England have debated about where Manu Tuilagi will end up: 13, 12 or 11. Wing was an option because of doubts about his passing but he showed traditional Samoan qualities against the All Blacks, twice flicking the ball out of the back of his hand, creating a try for Brad Barritt on the second occasion. The Lions have had a habit over the years of converting 13s into 12s – think Scott Gibbs in 1993 and Jamie Roberts in 2009. Where Tuilagi, right, ends up may depend on the fitness and form of Brian O’Driscoll but a player who can bust New Zealand’s midfield defence directly from a lineout would be wasted on the flank. The Lions will have two months together: one month with Mike Catt has, at the last moment, given Tuilagi an extra dimension.

3 Will squad be picked on form or reputation?

Gatland said in September that he would be paying more attention to the form of players in the autumn than in the Six Nations. If he is true to his word, most of his Wales squad can look forward to a month in Japan rather than Australia next summer but, with Scotland in freefall, the bulk of the touring party will come from the current Six Nations champions, Ireland and England. Wales’s repeated failings against Australia, New Zealand and South Africa makes the choice of captain interesting. Sam Warburton, above, admitted his frustration after Saturday’s defeat by Australia at the Millennium Stadium and he is now the most unsuccessful Wales captain ever against the Wallabies.

4 Coaching team must gel quickly

Gatland will announce his assistant coaches in Scotland next week. He is set to retain the England forwards coach, Graham Rowntree, and the Wales defence coach, Shaun Edwards, who were in South Africa in 2009. And while there was some disbelief when Andy Farrell, below left, was linked with the position of backs coach, the victory over the All Blacks has bolstered his claim. The management team will need to knit quickly, as it did three years ago, and England’s victory over the All Blacks had a significant input from the coaches: the tactic to kick for position and not risk being turned over worked so effectively that it was England who snaffled possession at the tackle area and New Zealand had no mistakes to feed off.

5 Who will line up in Brisbane?

There are some areas, most notably blindside flanker, second row and back three, where the Lions will have a long debate about the touring squad, never mind the Test team for the opener in Brisbane. There are others, such as half-back, where they do not have as much choice. A potential team on the evidence of the last month would be: Halfpenny; Bowe, Davies, Tuilagi, Gilroy; Sexton, B Youngs; Corbisiero, T Youngs, Cole, Launchbury, Parling, Wood, Robshaw, Heaslip. A number will have returned from injury by April, not least Dylan Hartley, Tom Croft, Ben Foden, Adam Jones, Alun Wyn Jones, Dan Lydiate, O’Driscoll, Paul O’Connell, Stephen Ferris and Sean O’Brien, while Richie Gray loses out only because of the way Launchbury, below, performed against South Africa and New Zealand and George North missed Wales’s matches against the All Blacks and the Wallabies. The starting XV is set to be a marriage of Celtic cunning and English resolve.



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