Edwards backs British and Irish Lions to win series

Wales and Lions great Gareth Edwards believes the British and Irish Lions class of 2013 will prove too strong for the Wallabies over three Tests – but only just.

“I’m going for 2-1 Lions,” Edwards said in Hong Kong before the tourists flew off to Perth following an eight-try 59-8 romp past the Barbarians on Saturday in their opening tour match in Hong Kong.

He also reckons the battle for supremacy in the three-Test series, which begins on June 22 in Brisbane, will be won and lost around the base of scrum.

And he should know: Edwards spent 12 years of a legendary international career plying his trade in that very area of the game, better than anyone before or since according to many.

Edwards was scrum-half on three Lions tours, including 1971 whose alumni are still the only players who can boast they beat All Blacks, and 1974 — the year of the “invincibles” in South Africa.

He is still regarded by many judges as the finest number nine to have ever played the game, and in 2003 was voted the greatest rugby player of all time in a poll of international stars carried out by Rugby World magazine.

The key to Lions success, according to the man from Pontardawe, rests with the back row starving the quicksilver Wallaby backs of the ball.

“If everything goes to schedule for the Lions, and injuries can change plans in an instant, the pack will be just too strong.

“The way (coach Warren) Gatland wants to play is a very powerful, quick game around the base of the scrum.

“People like Dan Lydiate, like Sam Warburton, like Justin Tipuric, Jamie Heaslip, they are powerful in that department and we’ve also got a pretty good second row.”

Mike Phillips put himself in pole position to take the Lions Test scrum-half jersey with a man-of-the-match display and two tries against the Barbarians.

And Edwards is relishing the prospect of a battle between his powerful countryman and the mercurial Wallaby Will Genia.

“It will be fascinating to watch,” said the 65-year-old. “There’ll be a huge contrast.

“I love the way Genia plays. I’m looking forward to watching the confrontation between him and Mike.”

Phillips is 6ft 3in (1.91m), weighs 16st 5lb (104kg) and has biceps and thighs like tree trunks, all attributes that would have put him in the front row rather than behind the number eight in Edwards’ day.

Genia is just 5ft 8in (1.74m), but that makes the clash of the nines all the more intriguing for Edwards.

“You’ve got the physical presence that Mike will try to put on him. And Genia is more of a traditional scrum-half, if there’s such a thing in the modern game.

“Mike has got all the attributes, but he loves that arm wrestle and it will be fascinating to see if he tries to pull Genia in or whether Genia can impose his game on Mike.”

However good a scrum-half you are, you can only operate if you get usable, quick ball. Edwards thinks that is where the Lions will hold sway.

“At the end of the day as a scrum-half it all depends on what platform you’ve got,” said Edwards.

“Genia is a world-class player but if the Lions back-row starve him of ball the Wallabies will struggle.

“And the core part of the Lions’ game is strong — strong scrum, strong line-out.”

Edwards, talking to AFP after presenting medals to the HSBC under-12 “Junior Lions” and “Mini-Barbarians” on a sweltering afternoon at Hong Kong football Club, said the Lions’ biggest threat would come from the Wallaby backs.

“The Aussies have got incredible backs, who with the minimum of ball can maximise their scoring,” Edwards said.

And he warned: “These Aussies are not just going to lie down and be rolled over.

“The Lions don’t come around very often so there’s a great opportunity for those players to make a mark.

“That’s why it will be close. Lions tours always are.”

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