Ian Stafford: Some Compelling Lions Stories But Will The Biggest Story Be A Lions Win?

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Ian Stafford: Some Compelling Lions Stories But Will The Biggest Story Be A Lions Win?

So now we know which 15 Lions will take on the Wallabies. How many of them would we have picked when the 37-man squad left London for Australia? The truth is most, with a few notable exceptions.

 

Adam Jones was always the favourite to grab the tighthead spot over Dan Cole, while Alun Wyn Jones and Paul O'Connell were in the box seat for the second row partnership. Sam Warburton was captain so he was expected to start, Mike Phillips was always favourite over Ben Youngs, as was Jonny Sexton over Owen Farrell. Brian O'Driscoll was a probable starter because of his leadership, experience and still brilliance, George North was a dead cert on one wing and Leigh Halfpenny the likely full-back, guaranteed after his incredible form on this tour.

 

Which leaves loosehead, hooker, blindside, number eight, inside centre and the other wing berth.

 

Alex Corbisiero is probably the biggest surprise of the lot, although understandable. A knee injury kept him out of the Six Nations and cost him any chance of a Lions call-up. Then Gethin Jenkins and Cian Healy are injured on tour but Mako Vunipola grabs his chance and seems the likely test loosehead. Corbisiero, the New York-Italian born, rapping, WWF fan, arrives late from Argentina but makes such an impact that the Lions management have opted for him over his England colleague for one reason - scrummaging. Vunipola may catch the eye with ball in hand but for the Lions to win they must win the basics first, and that is why Corbisiero has the nod.

 

Tom Youngs is another amazing story. Last May he was barely in the Leicester Tigers starting XV. Thirteen months on and the man who, don't forget, changed from centre to hooker just three years' ago, is the first-choice England hooker, player of the season, a Lion and now a test Lion. Incredible.

 

Tom Croft's story is not far behind, either, not because of how good he is - Croft scored two tries on his Lions test debut in 2009, remember - but because he suffered a broken neck last summer which was dangerously close to something more permanent. To be playing after that is something. To be picked ahead of the likes of Sean O'Brien and Dan Lydiate in such circumstances is something else.

 

The call between Jamie Heaslip and Toby Faleteau was always going to be close, but the Irishman gets it because of his superior ball-carrying skills. A team always needs a big, ball-carrying number eight. That's why Ben Morgan was so badly missed by England in the Six Nations.

 

The inside centre berth was probably going to be filled by Jamie Roberts, the player of the 2009 series. He looked set to rekindle his partnership with O'Driscoll until he injured his hamstring last week in Sydney. No matter, In Jonathan Davies the Lions have a man in form and, although he and Roberts have different strengths, the side is no weaker.

 

Alex Cuthbert gets the other spot on the wing to join North and Halfpenny in the back three, an all-Welsh trio. Again, he may well have been selected in any case although I fancy Ireland's Tommy Bowe would have edged him out but for his hand fracture.    

 

Is this team good enough to beat Australia? Yes. Will it be much easier if they win the first test against an under-cooked Wallabies? Without doubt. Can they win if they lose on Saturday? Yes, but it will be tough. Mighty tough. Brisbane has to be a Lions win. Otherwise it could be yet another Lions series defeat.  

By Ian Stafford