Lions defeat a wake-up call for Gatland and massive lift for Australia

The British & Irish Lions have been warned that their midweek defeat by the ACT Brumbies will galvanise Australia for the first Test in Brisbane on Saturday.

The former World Cup-winning coach Jake White, now in charge of the Brumbies, believes the Lions' 14-12 midweek loss on Tuesday will make the Wallabies far more optimistic about winning the three-Test series.

By their own admission the Lions were poor in defeat, with none of the starting line-up enhancing his chances of making the Test side.

"I've no doubt the Wallabies will be sitting in camp thinking: 'It's do-able now,'" said White, already convinced the team which wins the first Test will win the series. "A couple of days ago they'd have been thinking this is a massive uphill battle."

White also reckons the manner of his side's victory, with the Lions well beaten at the breakdown and smashed back around the gainline, will encourage Australia to attempt something similar. Warren Gatland, in contrast, believes the Lions' first defeat to provincial opposition since 1997 will ultimately prove a timely wake-up call. "We are disappointed but it's now a question of how people respond to it. Maybe it's not the worst thing to get a bit of a knock and have a bit of a reality check. It's important we learn from this experience and make sure we're better for it next time. It wasn't a great game … the Brumbies didn't play any rugby."

The Lions Test team is due to be announced on Thursday, with the majority of the side who beat the NSW Waratahs on Saturday expected to feature. Jamie Roberts and Tommy Bowe are definitely out injured and George North, despite making good progress from a tweaked hamstring, is understood to be a day behind target in terms of making the team for Saturday.

It leaves Wales's Alex Cuthbert and Scotland's Sean Maitland as the front-runners for the two wing slots, unless Gatland throws caution to the antipodean winds and selects Manu Tuilagi, Rob Kearney or Simon Zebo on the left wing. Up front there are valid tactical scrummaging reasons for starting with Richard Hibbard and Alex Corbisiero but the value of Tom Youngs and Mako Vunipola around the field has been so considerable that the Lions could simply opt to pick purely on current form.

Picking the best side for the first Test is neither an art nor a science, more a case of staring fate squarely in the eye. No one could have predicted in advance that Brian O'Driscoll's series would be over within seconds of the kick-off in 2005, nor that Phil Vickery would endure one of the most painful days of an otherwise outstanding career in Durban in 2009. Gatland can only hope that the 2013 series commences more favourably for the Lions.

His midweek captain, Rory Best, concedes, however, that the Lions were simply not good enough against the Brumbies. "We got physically beaten up up front, we got a bit nervy and they were hungrier than us right across the board," he said. "The forwards will stand up and take a lot of the heat and deservedly so. We just didn't turn up … right from the start they wanted it more. We let our standards slip and it's up to the 23 this weekend to raise them again."

White described it as a special result – "This is as good as it gets in rugby" – as the two sides prepare for what he believes will be "a massive psychological battle" at Suncorp Stadium. "I grew up in South Africa when the 1974 team toured SA. I appreciate and understand just how important Lions series are."

Australia's coach, Robbie Deans, is also due to announce his team on Thursday, with James O'Connor being tipped to start at fly-half after the winger Digby Ioane was passed fit. The Lions have not won a Test series anywhere since 1997 in South Africa.

Powered by article was written by Robert Kitson in Canberra, for The Guardian on Tuesday 18th June 2013 22.00 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


image: © National Assembly for Wales