Saturday, June 22, 2013

Wallabies vs Lions Player Ratings; Team for Second Test

One swallow doth not a summer make - North scored an
undeniably classy try, but the rest of his game left something
to be desired.
We've referenced rugby in this parish in times past, and notwithstanding the vociferous accusations of inconsistency that will inevitably emanate from this contribution, we here at TSWI feel compelled to offer a view on today's First Test from Brisbane, where the Irish and British Lions stole a series lead from a battered and brave Wallaby side.  Player ratings and next week's team prediction after the fold.

15 Leigh Halfpenny - 7
As a full back was merely adequate, missing a tackle on Folau (along with Sexton and Corbisiero) and not coming into the line as often as we might like.  But the kicking remains immaculate, and will keep his place for that alone.  The back three generally, however, were not all that dynamic, and only get a 6 for the collective effort - North's try apart, (and Cuthbert's try was through a back line that had suffered four in-match withdrawals), there were too many missed tackles, poor following up of kicks, no dynamism in attack and a general lack of threat.

14 Alex Cuthbert - 6
Ordinary. Doesn't posess the defensive qualities of Bowe, the flair of Zebo, or even the versatility of Maitland - may actually lose his place in the 23 entirely with Bowe coming back in in particular.  His try, while well taken, was at a stage when the Wallaby backline had been emaciated by injury.  While there was an argument to retain a cohesive Welsh back three, their collective lacked cohesion; that argument is gone now.  Bowe will start in Melbourne

13 Brian O'Driscoll - 6 
Two penalties coughed up inside ten minutes, and less abrasive at the breakdown thereafter, BOD was nevertheless involved in everything right to the final moment, with some lovely offloads, speed to the breakdown, and great link play.  There's usually a big hit, a big steal, a big pass, or a big score to talk about when he plays, though - not today.  Still, an awesome player, will keep his start.

12 Jonathan Davies - 5
Just no penetration, too much delay, sluggish at the breakdown, and not linking as well with BOD as Jamie Roberts has in the past.  Center pairing gets a 5 - just not good enough at this level.  Jamie Roberts will start in Melbourne.  The centers get a 5 as a pairing.

11 George North - 7
Let's not get too excited here - he scored a magnificent individual try, skipping through O'Connor who had an awful game, Barnes with a good step, and Genia with pure pace - but apart from that he was partially at fault for the first Folau try, and with Cuthbert and Halfpenny part of an ineffective and lethargic back three. He get's the extra point for the try, but this isn't soccer and he isn't a striker - there's more to wing play than scoring tries.

10 Jonathan Sexton - 6
Got better and better as the game went on, but wasn't helped by Phillips having a terrible game inside, and Davies terrible outside, though he didn't really get the treatment many had expected.  It was hard to see how he was protected, the replay may help us understand whether Warburton helped out in that respect.  He had a few flashes - for Cuthbert's try, and before that catching his own kick through.  Will get even better as the tour progresses, one suspects that his curtailed training through injury hasn't helped; should Murray start ahead of Phillips he could do even better, and Roberts outside can't but improve things. Still miles better than the Farrell option.  The half backs get a 5 as a pairing.

9 Mike Phillips - 4
I thought that perhaps his appalling box kicks in the first half were part of a cunning plan that went along the lines of the Lions preferring to give the ball away so that they could hit the Wallabies hard in the tackle, and soften them up in the process.  His relatively early removal, and the comments after the match suggested that this was not in fact the plan.  His kicks were too long.  They were not wide enough.  The back three had no chance to follow up.  He was slow to the breakdown; when he got there, his recycle was too slow.  Simply not anywhere near his best; Youngs has a different game, but I think Gatland won't want that different game (Youngs was poor when he came on too) so he may plump for Murray, whose relationship with Sexton is important.

1 Alex Corbisiero -7
The front row gets a 7 as a pair - as do the locks.  Immense in the scrum, 100% on their own lineout ball (even if a lot was to the front). Lovely pick up and offload to Croft in the second half helped with Lions momentum, even if he could have taken the tackle before off-loading.  The best compliment to his play and that of the front row was that when they were replaced, the scrum went backwards and the penalty count mounted.  Not sure why he was replaced - perhaps to give Vunipola a run-out - but it was a mistake.

2 Tom Youngs - 8
Threw well to the lineout, and part of a highly performant front row and tight five.  Like Corbisiero should not have been replaced, and the scrum suffered afterwards.  Get's an extra point for the lineout accuracy.

3 Adam Jones - 7
As with his colleagues played well, but not for long enough.  In the engine room for many years now, he can't offer as much game time as he used to, so his substitution was more understandable, but it would be good if they could figure out how to keep him on for longer.  Cole was a pale shadow in his place.

4 Alun-Wyn Jones - 8 
Great game.  Thought he played better than POC in the loose, seemed to show up more often and faster, and did well in the lineout with two takes.  Can't ask more, and should be retained with POC for Melbourne.

5 Paul O'Connell - 7
The lock pair get a 7, and while POC was a little quieter than usual, he was always there, always moving, always getting to the right positions.  Lucky to avoid yellow after 66 minutes in coughing up a penalty on the Lions five meter line, but generally strong at the breakdown and a great leader on the field.

6 Tom Croft - 6
The lineout wasn't as much of a feature as we had thought it might be, which meant that he didn't
have the platform to demonstrate what is the great strength of his game.  In the loose, just doesn't have the same aggression as O'Brien in attack, or Lydiate in defence.  Possibly a more rounded flanker, but he's played better on this tour when against lesser opposition.  Can't see him starting in Melbourne; Lions may go for SOB if offensively minded, or (more likely) Lydiate if defensively so.  Can see him slipping from the 23, though the English selectors will fight for his retention.

7 Sam Warburton - 6
There was a moment in the first half when the Lions were awarded a penalty, and Phillips and Halfpenny between them didn't know whether the decision was for a kick or a scrum - Warburton had to be reminded that he had a decision to make.  He seemed to be in the ear of the referee quite a bit, and we know that his ability to manage referees was one of the reasons for his selection as captain, but it seems that whatever he said was ineffective - even Gatland had a pop at the referee after the game.  He played OK.  He didn't play badly enough to have his place under threat.  But if he wasn't captain, it would be frankly hard to see him in the 15 on Saturday, given the strength of the non-selected options at seven.

8 Jamie Heaslip - 6
Partially to blame for one of the penalties in the last ten minutes, good at the lineout, and at every breakdown at speed, Heaslip had another one of those games where he's done what's asked of him, but didn't get over the gainline as much as he should have.  Same goes for the whole back row - who get a 6 as a group - as they simply didn't boss the breakdown and shove the Wallabies off the ball enough.  They didn't make the breaks, they didn't gather the momentum, they simply didn't do what they should have done in a Lions shirt.  I'd give anything to see Faletau, O'Brien and Lydiate start on Saturday - won't happen, but I think they'd be awesome.  Heaslip will probably keep his place - but equally Faletau may come in.

The team Gatland will pick next week (with my preferred selection in brackets where different):
15 Leigh Halfpenny
14 Tommy Bowe
13 Brian O'Driscoll
12 Jamie Roberts
11 George North
10 Jonathan Sexton
9 Mike Phillips (Conor Murray)
1 Alex Corbisiero
2 Tom Youngs
3 Adam Jones
4 Alun-Wyn Jones
5 Paul O'Connell
6 Dan Lydiate (Sean O'Brien)
7 Sam Warburton
8 Toby Faletau

16 Richard Hibbard
17 Mako Vunipola
18 Dan Cole
19 Ian Evans
20 Tom Croft
21 Conor Murray (Ben Youngs)
22 Owen Farrell
23 Rob Kearney

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