BRITISH and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland expects Australia to adopt spoiling tactics in the looming three-Test series, after the tourists were exposed at the breakdown by the Brumbies yesterday.
The bruising 14-12 defeat in Canberra ended the Lions’ 100 per cent tour record just four days before the first Test and inflicted their first loss to an Australian provincial side since 1971.
Centre Tevita Kuridrani crossed early for the only try and three penalties from full-back Jesse Mogg kept the home side in front, despite Stuart Hogg and Owen Farrell replying with a brace of kicks apiece.
Gatland rested his first-choice players for Saturday’s clash in Brisbane but was still perturbed by the manner of defeat to former South Africa coach Jake White’s side, and what Australia may have gleaned.
“The Brumbies didn’t play any rugby. We gave them a fairly soft try early on, and then it was a battle of the breakdown for 75 minutes. There are a few things for us to work on,” he said. “Maybe it is an indication for Australia that they may compete pretty hard at the breakdown. The Brumbies were really effective at what they did. They tried to frustrate us, and it was successful. There are a lot of people disappointed. It wasn’t a great game of rugby.”
Saracens fly-half Farrell sparked comeback hopes when he replaced Hogg, who twice hit the woodwork, promptly dragging the Lions to within two points and setting up a late rally. It was an improvement on a tepid first-half display, but the late surge proved in vain when the Lions lost possession on their own scrum and slipped to a morale-denting defeat.
“I have no doubt the boys in the Wallaby camp will say it is doable now,” said World Cup-winner White.
“The first Test is going to be massive. There is massive psychological warfare. It’s do or die on Saturday.”
Veteran Shane Williams, making a one-off appearance as injury cover, almost scored with his first touch but was bundled out of play, and he and fellow wing Christian Wade, of Wasps, found chances quickly stifled.
“We didn’t have the urgency and intensity we needed in the first half. All credit to the Brumbies. They frustrated us and it was a tough day at the office,” Gatland added.
“It’s a part of being on tour, regrouping. We’ve been building nicely, there’s been a lot of momentum. Maybe it’s not the worst thing to take a bit of a knock and get a bit of a reality check, and we had that.”