Ian Stafford: First Blood To The Lions - Now Finish The Job

by Ian Stafford »

Ian Stafford: First Blood To The Lions - Now Finish The Job

Well, that was close in Brisbane, wasn't it? Closer than most of us expected, to be honest.


With the Lions unbeaten on tour - save for that midweek game in Canberra with a team so scratch Shane Williams was playing for them - and with the Wallabies having not played for eight months, we all felt the first Test was a gimmee, with the stiffer challenges ahead. Not so. Even though few could argue the Lions did not deserve to win they still had to depend on Kurtley Beale slipping as he attempted to convert a late, late penalty to come through.


Head coach Warren Gatland will not want to go through that again.


And neither will we. Australia may in one sense be better for shaking off the cobwebs but, in doing so, they have lost players through injury and should have lost captain James Horwill after his stamping of Alun Wyn Jones' head somehow escaped censorship.


With full back or wing James O'Connor playing at stand off, and stand off/centre Berrick Barnes playing at full back, and with Quade Cooper deemed surplus to requirements, it all seems confusing within the Wallaby ranks.


As for the Lions, well all is not perfect, either. The loss of lock Paul O'Connell through injury is a big blow, but in likely replacement Geoff Parling, the Lions are in steady hands. The likely loss of loosehead Alex Corbisiero, too - a fourth loosehead felled by injury on this tour - is another setback because his scrummagging will be missed, but having played averagely and won, the Lions will know one more win on Saturday morning in Melbourne and the job is done.


A special mention should be made of George North. If I were a Northampton Saints fan I'd be salivating thinking of the damage this boy will do to opposing Aviva Premiership teams at Franklin's Gardens. He produced one of the great tries in Lions history and if the Wallabies want to win on Saturday to take the series into a decider in Sydney then they will need to find a way to stop the giant Welshman.


I am not sure they will and, even if they do, it will create space for the likes of Brian O'Driscoll to exploit. It may be close again. For all their personnel problems I expect Australia to be better second time around, but the same must be said of the Lions.


It should be all over by lunchtime on Saturday and after 16 years of waiting the Lions can finally say they have won a Test series again.

By Ian Stafford