Planet Rugby

The British & Irish Lions


Wallabies there for the taking?

03rd June 2013 16:10


Balls for Lions series

Piling up: Australia's injuries

2013's British and Irish Lions tour is finally in motion but while the tourists recover from a victory in Hong Kong, Australia are anything but peachy.

Warren Gatland's men were rampant in humid conditions last Saturday and after landing in Australia, the 2013 tour can now officially start.

Fitness wise the Lions look in good shape, with only Rob Kearney a serious concern as captain Sam Warburton's knee fears have been allayed.

It's in fact Australia who are all at sea as the Lions dock 12 years after George Gregan, Toutai Kefu, Joe Roff and Daniel Herbert prevailed in Sydney.

Planet Rugby takes you through their current predicament as a worrying catalogue of injury absentees, doubts and other issues see the odds on the Lions winning this upcoming Test series decrease to as little as 8/13. In many eyes, the Wallabies are limping and could be there for the taking come the first showdown on June 22.

Wobbling Wallabies

OUT: Losing one of the most important cogs in their forward pack, David Pocock, in March was a hit to Australia's solar plexus. The star flank suffered the knee injury playing for the Brumbies, which ruled him out for nine months, and is likely to be replaced by Michael Hooper, who has been impressive in recent rounds. Add to this injury list hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau and now Sitaleki Timani and the Wallabies have lost real grunt up front that would have served them well against the Lions. Polota-Nau is on the sidelines after suffering a fractured forearm a fortnight ago while lock Timani has a thumb issue.

DOUBTS: Initially it was feared that veteran flanker George Smith's second Lions series would not happen. But in positive news for the Wallabies, Smith could still feature at some point in the Tests after recovering well from his knee medial ligament injury. A similar story goes for hard-running inside centre Pat McCabe, whose knee problem is being monitored. While Christian Lealiifano is likely to wear 12 for Australia, coping with Jamie Roberts is a major part of the defensive gameplan and the general consensus would be McCabe being the safer stifling option against the Welshman. Elsewhere on their treatment table, line-busting wing Digby Ioane is unlikely to make the first Test due to recovering from a knee operation while perhaps most significant is the possible absence of back-row Scott Higginbotham. Higginbotham has been the standout number eight in Super Rugby this term - mixing an impressive bag of skills with speed and technical ability - and is yet to discover the full extent of the damage to his shoulder he sustained over the weekend.

INELIGIBLE: An eligibility technicality will force Henry Speight to sit out the British and Irish Lions Test series. There would be few arguing that the Fijian-born wing would be in the number fourteen jersey for the Wallabies had he not had a stint in the ITM Cup with Waikato in 2010, which delayed the International Rugby Board declaring him an Australian resident. Should Ioane not recover in time it looks like Joe Tomane and Nick Cummins will start.

SNUBBED: We come to the most controversial subject in Australia. Robbie Deans continues to leave Quade Cooper out of his squad but maintains the door is open for the Reds fly-half to return in time for the upcoming once-in-twelve-years clashes. Cooper has been in decent form for the Brisbane outfit this season and with Lions assistant coach Andy Farrell also scratching his head at the ten's absence, whether Deans succumbs to adding the player who called his squad environment "toxic" remains the big question. Lions supporters will of course hope that Cooper, who can turn a game in an instant on attack, is kept in the cold.

OFF-FIELD ISSUES: He played for Sydney club side Randwick on Saturday after progressing through the first stage of his counseling for drink-related issues. We are talking about Kurtley Beale, who Deans only this week spoke highly of. Such talk regarding the troubled Wallaby - and the fact that the Rebels player trained with Australia's preliminary squad on Monday - suggests that Beale is ahead of Cooper in returning to the international group.

Our current Wallaby XV: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Nick Cummins, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Christian Lealiifano, 11 Joe Tomane, 10 James O'Connor, 9 Will Genia, 8 Ben Mowen, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Dave Dennis, 5 James Horwill, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 James Slipper, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Benn Robinson.

By Adam Kyriacou