Talking over, it’s time to roar

At last the hype is over and the British and Irish Lions are back in business.

Talking over, it’s time to roar

For Australia, so the marketing spiel goes, it has been a Test series 12 years in the making, while those of us from this part of the world have suffered the pain of three successive series defeats, starting with the Wallabies’ 2-1 triumph here in 2001.

Today, Warren Gatland’s 2013 Lions intend to start putting things right and will go into this opening Test match at Suncorp Stadium (11am Irish time) bristling with confidence that they have the right stuff to emulate their predecessors of South Africa 1997.

Only the 2005 Lions in New Zealand were outclassed, whitewashed 3-0, with the 2001 and 2009 tourists losing by the narrowest of margins. This series, too, is likely to be decided by the smallest of differences.

The bookmakers have somehow made the Lions clear favourites, but for the rest of us it is about trying to ascertain just what will separate these two sides, both of which possess generous quantities of that delicious ingredient — the unknown.

No one really knows what sort of shape Australia will be in when they launch themselves into this game, having had no warm-up games and with a side showing three debutants and bearing little resemblance to the one that toured the northern hemisphere in November.

Likewise the Lions have promised moves not yet seen on tour in addition to the immense physicality, a strong work ethic and an eye for the try line already evident. There are also combinations within both teams that will be untested; from the Wallabies’ half-backs Will Genia and James O’Connor, paired just twice before in 2011, to Lions centres Jon Davies and Brian O’Driscoll. And there are question marks over the Lions bench, where there is no recognisable cover at openside should recently-injured captain Sam Warburton break down — Gatland having selected out and out blindside Dan Lydiate ahead of the versatile Sean O’Brien.

Then there are the coaches, the two New Zealanders, of which Robbie Deans has recently held the upper hand in the seemingly endless meetings between Australia and Wales over the last four years.

Gatland has suffered eight successive defeats since 2009, but he is now better equipped to avenge them. This may be a Welsh-dominated team but the reinforcements in the shape of Paul O’Connell, Jonny Sexton and Brian O’Driscoll are considerable and all three Irishmen have recently enjoyed success over the Wallabies.

As O’Driscoll pointed out, rugby can be boiled down to who wins the tackle contest, and the breakdown will be a key to victory.

If the Lions can stay accurate, quickly get the measure of New Zealand referee Chris Pollock and maintain their intensity, they have every chance of winning this most crucial of battles.

And with an in-form kicker like Leigh Halfpenny, who can bisect the posts from inside his own half, it is perhaps the home side that has most to fear about crossing the referee in the contact area.

“It says to the opposition, without a shadow of doubt, that first of all they have to be disciplined,” defence coach Andy Farrell said yesterday of Halfpenny’s kicking prowess.

It must start here in Brisbane for the Lions with a series-opening victory, for which the tone must be set from the first whistle and sustained throughout the 80 minutes. Intensity, accuracy and agility, both in attack and defence.

We’ve heard the mantra often enough since Gatland’s squad first convened in Wales six weeks ago.

And now the long wait is over, it is the time for the Lions to deliver.

AUSTRALIA: B Barnes (NSW Waratahs); I Folau (NSW Waratahs), A Ashley-Cooper (NSW Waratahs), C Leali’ifano (Brumbies), D Ioane (Queensland Reds); J O’Connor (Melbourne Rebels), W Genia (Queensland Reds); B Robinson (NSW Waratahs), S Moore (Brumbies), B Alexander (Brumbies); K Douglas (NSW Waratahs), J Horwill (Queensland Reds) – captain; B Mowen (Brumbies), M Hooper (NSW Waratahs), W Palu (NSW Waratahs). Replacements: S Fainga’a (Queensland Reds), J Slipper (Queensland Reds), S Kepu (NSW Waratahs), R Simmons (Queensland Reds), L Gill (Queensland Reds), N Phipps (Melbourne Rebels), P McCabe (Brumbies), K Beale (Melbourne Rebels).

BRITISH & IRISH LIONS: L Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues/Wales); A Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues/Wales), B O’Driscoll (Leinster/Ireland), J Davies (Scarlets/Wales), G North (Scarlets/Wales); J Sexton (Leinster/Ireland), M Phillips (Bayonne/Wales); A Corbisiero (London Irish/England), T Youngs (Leicester Tigers/England), A Jones (Ospreys/Wales); A W Jones (Ospreys/Wales), P O’Connell (Munster/Ireland); T Croft (Leicester Tigers/England), S Warburton (Cardiff Blues/Wales) – captain, J Heaslip (Leinster/Ireland). Replacements: R Hibbard (Ospreys/Wales), M Vunipola (Saracens/England), D Cole (Leicester Tigers/England), G Parling (Leicester Tigers/England), D Lydiate (Dragons/Wales), B Youngs (Leicester Tigers/England), O Farrell (Saracens/England), S Maitland (Glasgow Warriors/Scotland). REFEREE: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)

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