Quite remarkably, despite three Australian players being stretchered off the Suncorp Stadium turf in Brisbane and Lions stalwart Paul O’Connell suffering a Tour-ending broken arm, it seems the 1st Lions Test wasn’t quite brutal enough. Warren Gatland has decided “to add a bit more physicality” for the all important “do-or-die” 2nd Test which could decide the series for the Lions, or level it for the Wallabies.
So who are the individuals that bring this additional grunt to the side?
Two of the changes are forced by injury, Geoff Parling coming in for O’Connell and Mako Vunipola taking the place of Alex Corbiserio. The other changes to the team sheet are: Dan Lydiate, promoted to blindside flanker ahead of Tom Croft; Ben Youngs, replacing Mike Phillips at scrum-half; and Tommy Bowe, who comes in for Alex Cuthbert on the right wing.
What’s debatable is whether Gatland’s additional physicality rings true, in fact if this is the sole purpose of his changes, he may have lost his Kiwi marbles. Parling is not as big a presence as O’Connell, Alex Cuthbert stands 6ft6 and 16st5 to Tommy Bowe’s 6ft3 and 14st6 and Ben Youngs is almost half a foot shorter than his Welsh counterpart.
The exception to this is Vunipola. Injuries seem to have plagued the loosehead prop position – Vunipola is the fourth choice starter – but he is a dynamic ball carrier, with a deft offload for a prop. If he can handle the challenge of Australian tighthead Ben Alexander at scrumtime, he will offer an extra bludgeoning option for forward momentum around the field.
However, putting physicality aside, the other changes are potentially very savvy selections.
Parling, while not offering the same physical presence as O’Connell, is the most cunning of line-out tacticians and will add stability to the set piece. His combination with hooker Tom Youngs at Leicester should provide a solid platform of ball for the backs to run off. Tom Croft can count himself unlucky to be sidelined, as he by no means had a quiet game last weekend, but Dan Lydiate adds a considerable defensive edge at the breakdown and will be charged with slowing down the Wallabies ball and preventing Will Genia from sniping from the base of the ruck.
In the backs, Ben Youngs is a welcome inclusion to match the pace and precision of Genia. In the 1st Test, Mike Phillips was made to look positively lethargic and Youngs will be looking to put his spark and awareness to good use.
Lastly, 29 year-old Ulsterman Tommy Bowe started all three Tests in South Africa four years ago and this experience will play a huge part in keeping the Wallaby attack at bay as they vie to keep in contention for the series. He has recovered from fracturing a bone in his hand two weeks ago … quite remarkably!