PATRICK CALLAGHAN ON THE FINAL LIONS’ TEST AND WILLIAM CHRIMES PREVIEWS THE MEN’S WIMBLEDON SEMI-FINALS
BRIAN O’Driscoll was the name on everyone’s lips after the shock news that Warren Gatland had left the Irish legend out of the deciding British and Irish Lions Test against Australia tomorrow morning.
His omission quickly became one of the most talked about topics with the majority of people condemning Gatland. It does seem a baffling decision from the New Zealander. Putting aside the debate on whether or not the Leinster centre is at the top of his game, the 34-year-old is the very definition of a Lion – brave, strong, committed and an inspiration. His presence will be a major miss.
I have backed the Lions in both of the Tests so far but the luck that we enjoyed when Kurtley Beale missed a match-winning penalty at the death in Brisbane well and truly ran out last Saturday. It was the turn of Leigh Halfpenny to miss a difficult kick at the end in Melbourne that would have sealed the series.
The Wallabies’ dramatic fightback in that slender 16-15 victory stole back the momentum ahead of tomorrow and, for the first time in the series, Robbie Deans’ men are favourites at 4/5 with Coral. The firm are also best-priced on the Lions at 5/4 but I can’t be backing them and, much like Gatland said he “used his head not his heart” when dropping O’Driscoll, I have to use my loaf and take Australia. Not only will O’Driscoll be missing for the touring party but captain Sam Warburton has been ruled out with injury. It was after he hobbled off with 13 minutes left that Adam Ashley-Cooper crashed over for the only try of the game last week and Christian Leali’ifano kept his cool to kick the conversion that sealed the win.
Gatland has named 10 Welsh players in the line-up and no Scotsmen which has also attracted criticism this week but all of that will be forgotten if his troops can deliver a win and end 16 years of Lions’ pain. Not since 1997 in South Africa have they returned home victors.
Back in 2001 the Lions got off to a winning start in Brisbane before a reverse in Melbourne saw the series settled in Sydney. The result? A 29-23 win for Australia, so there’s a definite sense of déjà vu about this tour.
The hosts will be buzzing for the finale and their coach has already suggested they will benefit from no O’Driscoll in the set-up. The Aussies will have the services of a veteran of their own in the shape of flanker George Smith, who has been in top form of late and only a knee complaint kept him out of the first two Tests.
Captain James Horwill won his appeal for his alleged stamp on Alun Wyn Jones in the opener and the surprise decision from the International Rugby Board is a massive boost for their chances.
While they have improved for each match, the Lions seem to have regressed and I see no reason why Australia won’t uphold their supremacy and consign the Lions to more disappointment.
The Lions made up just 15 on Sporting Index’s performance market last time out and they look a good sell with the spread betting firm at 52. They’d need to win tomorrow and score at least two tries to even make-up 50.
Australia at 4/5 with Coral
Sell Lions performance at 52 with Sporting Index