The Lions slumped to their first defeat of the 2013 tour to Australia with a 14-12 loss to the ACT Brumbies in Canberra.
It was a strange game in many ways. After some bizarre call-ups over the weekend (Shane Williams must have pinched himself when his phone started ringing and he saw Warren Gatland’s name on the screen) it was a scratch Lions team that took to the field. Despite that fact, it was a team that boasted over 500 caps to the Brumbies’ 28, and one that probably should have won.
There were several things that disappointed the average Lions fan, but one of the most grating was the continued selection of Stuart Hogg at fly-half. The man is simply not a fly-half. He was one of the best players of the Six Nations, where even Scotland (a nation not blessed in recent years with exceptional no.10s) knew to play him at fullback.
He looked out of sorts today, and a player many people had penciled into a bench spot for the test matches may now find himself fulfilling the role of midweek fly-half – a great shame, given the young man’s exceptional counter-attacking ability and dazzling acceleration. He could be a real game changer from the bench, so let’s hope Gatland – whose fault this positional nightmare is anyway, for only bringing two recognized fly-halves – doesn’t consign him to midweek duties.
The other great disappointment was the performance of the pack. If the backs could be forgiven for looking a little rusty, given numbers 12-14 had been called up in the last week, number 10 was playing out of position and number 15 was making his first start of the tour, the pack didn’t have similar excuses to fall back on.
There was only one man, Ryan Grant, who had not been there since the beginning, and yet the rest of the pack played as if they didn’t know each other. The togetherness that has been a hallmark of this tour off the field was obvious only in its extreme absence. It was a particularly dark afternoon for captain and hooker Rory Best, who missed eight line-outs in total and as a result deprived the Lions of any meaningful platform from which to attack.
So as we head to Brisbane for the first test on Saturday, there is little to really be taken out of this game, other than the fact that very few of those involved here are likely to feature. It was not ideal preparation, but had Gatland been truly interested in winning it he would not have kept his front line players so wrapped in cotton wool. Roll on Saturday, and hopefully an entirely different Lions performance.
image: © iancarroll