The British and Irish Lions produced a tenacious performance to beat Queensland Reds 22-12 in Brisbane, but the touring side’s inferiority at the breakdown is a genuine cause for concern.
The Reds were superior in the ruck from the first whistle; as all-action No.7 Beau Williams helped his side to a total of 26 turnovers.
Meanwhile, despite the Lions forcing 23 turnovers themselves, skipper Sam Warburton struggled to influence the game. Indeed, his most telling contributions were frequent infringements at the breakdown and a missed tackle on Luke Morahan as the left-wing scored a sublime solo try.
Australia coach Robbie Deans will be quietly confident – the Aussies have a healthy assortment of the world’s best openside flankers.
Although the greatest of those, David Pocock, misses the entire tour through injury, in Michael Hooper, the Wallabies have a replacement who would probably be starting for the Lions were he British.
Warren Gatland showed faith in Warburton by handing him the tour captaincy but given how much the Wales skipper struggled against Australia in his country’s 3-0 series defeat last summer, it is possible to conclude that his trust might be misplaced.
It wasn’t so long ago that Warburton was dropped from the Wales team to play Italy, and his odds to captain the Lions had drifted.
As far as alternatives go, in Tom Croft and Sean O’Brien, the tourists have two outstanding ball carriers, but neither man is going to beat Hooper to the breakdown.
Similarly, Dan ‘Chopper’ Lydiate looked back to his devastating best in defence, but he remains a number six through-and-through, and is rightly known more for his dirty work than his turnover ability.
That leaves the man who played so well against England in the Six Nations decider, Justin Tipuric, as Gatland’s only ‘fetcher’.
But if Gatland opts for Tipuric, then Warburton has to play blindside, and with the key issue of balance at stake, is he really a better option there than Lydiate, Croft or even the bulldozing O’Brien?
In short, by not selecting Brian O’Driscoll or Paul O’Connell as his tour skipper, Gatland has left himself with a complicated selection dilemma.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.