Australia vs British & Irish Lions First Test preview

The British and Irish Lions will be counting on their superior levels of experience
against a a Wallaby team that features three debutants and a rookie flyhalf
for Saturday’s first Test match of three.

The tourists, chasing their first series win in 16 years, go into the opening
match of the three-Test series anchored by a powerful set-piece, quality leadership
with three Lions captains in their ranks, and the calming experience of centre
Brian O’Driscoll and lock Paul O’Connell.

The two Irishmen have 222 Test caps between them, with a dozen for the Lions,
giving them a decided edge over the Wallabies, who won the last series in Australia
in 2001.

O’Driscoll and O’Connell are joined by five other survivors from the series
against the Springboks in South Africa four years ago in scrum-half Mike Phillips,
prop Adam Jones, lock Alun Wyn Jones and back-rowers Tom Croft and Jamie Heaslip.

The forward pack alone has played a combined total of 403 Tests, and 17 Lions
Tests.

In comparison, Australia coach Robbie Deans has gone for three Test newcomers
— winger Israel Folau, centre Christian Lealiifano and flanker Ben Mowen —
while James O’Connor will play only his second game at flyhalf at this level.

The Lions also go into the opening clash unbeaten in all seven Tests played
in Brisbane going back to 1899.

Warren Gatland’s team lost their unbeaten record on the current tour in a 14-12
upset to the ACT Brumbies on Tuesday after running up five victories.

While the Lions are match-hardened, the same cannot be said for the Wallabies,
who will be playing their first Test since December.

Deans has had his squad in camp for three weeks working on combinations, strategy
and fitness, but they are notoriously slow starters and in the past two years
have lost to Samoa and Scotland in their first internationals of the season
at home.

Compounding the team’s lack of match practice is the relative inactivity of
three backs — O’Connor, who has played just one Super Rugby match in six weeks,
winger Digby Ioane and full-back Berrick Barnes.

“We feel very positive where we are, we feel we’ve got a few hit-outs
under our belt which has given us that match-hardened edge that we’re looking
for,” Gatland said this week.

“Physically we feel like we’re in good shape, the boys feel very fresh
and they’re looking forward to it.

“With the Australian team not having played for a few weeks and with two
or three players having been out injured, we need to really take it to them
physically, and with the kind of tempo that they are used to putting on other
sides.”

Skipper Sam Warburton says the Lions are all too aware that the tourists have
not won a series since South Africa in 1997.

“Everybody is desperate to achieve. It’s the one thing you will see in
the body language of every player for every game, because none of us has achieved
a Lions Test series win,” he said Friday.

“It’s something you desperately want to have on your rugby CV. We’ve got
Heineken Cup winners, Grand Slam winners, English champions — all these competitions,
but nobody’s ticked the Lions box.”

But Deans, whose coaching future with the Wallabies could hinge on the outcome
of this series, is confident his team will win the battle of the wills.

“We’ve made the most of the time we’ve had. I can assure you that they’ll
hit the ground running. They know what’s coming,” Deans said.

“We’ve tapped into the past, we’ve prepared as best that we can and we
can’t do any more without playing to be frank.”

While the Lions are unbeaten in Brisbane, Suncorp Stadium has become a Wallaby
fortress with the home side winning 12 of the 14 Tests there since 2003. The
All Blacks are the only opponents to hav

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