Lydiate inclusion is the bold one as Lions aim for series win
A combination of injuries and below-par performances has resulted in Warren Gatland making five changes for the second test between the Lions and Australia and it is the inclusion of Dan Lydiate that could have the biggest bearing on the result.
Geoff Parling and Mako Vunipola are in for injured duo Paul O’Connell and Alex Corbisiero, while Tommy Bowe’s return to fitness wins him the nod over Alex Cuthbert on the wing.
Bowe’s recovery has been impressive after breaking his hand just two weeks ago, but his ability to beat defenders has already been noticeable on this Lions tour, despite managing just 122 minutes of action thus far.
The decision to leave out Phillips seems justified given the minimal impact he had in the 23-21 victory in the first test in Brisbane where he was second-best of the scrum halves to Will Genia.
Ben Youngs is likely to pose more of an attacking threat around the fringes and this could be a positive for the Lions.
However, it is at flanker where the boldest decision has been made, with Lydiate picked ahead of Tom Croft and Sean O’Brien to wear the number six jersey.
This must be purely a defensive decision, with Lydiate a dominant tackler, but not a blindside that makes yards.
Lydiate didn’t miss one of 15 tackles against the Rebels in the Lions’ last game and he should be more effective in supporting Sam Warburton at the breakdown, which is the biggest strength of the captain and an area where the Lions had difficulty in the first test, conceding numerous penalties.
It will also give Australia’s Ben Mowen an added problem as he only really had Warburton to concern himself with in the first test.
Leaving out Croft means fewer options at the line-out, but Parling’s selection does help in this regard. The onus will be on keeping it simple for Tom Youngs, who will be more limited in his options.
Sean O’Brien is on the bench and as the best ball carrier of the Lions flankers, he could be important as an impact substitute.
The Lions have not won a series since 1997, but it is 4/7 that they triumph in the second test in Melbourne to end this 16-year wait.
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