Wallabies match-winner Adam Ashley-Cooper is bracing himself for a big-time return of midfield rival Jamie Roberts when Australia face the British & Irish Lions in Saturday’s series decider in Sydney.
Roberts missed the first two Tests in Brisbane and Melbourne with a hamstring injury suffered on June 15 against the Waratahs, with fellow Welshman Jon Davies deputising at inside centre in a midfield partnership with Brian O’Driscoll. Now Roberts and O’Driscoll, the first-choice centre partnership for the Lions in 2009 and at the outset of this tour, look set to be reunited at ANZ Stadium in the third and final Test, with the Wallabies fielding Christian Leali’ifano and Ashley-Cooper, who scored the only try of the game in Saturday’s 16-15 win, at 12 and 13 respectively.
“It’s a big return, that’s a big boost to their backline,” Ashley-Cooper said yesterday. “Obviously they had a great midfield combination working for them in Davies and O’Driscoll. They’re a class act. Davies is a good ball carrier but I guess for the team, Jamie Roberts, he’s a great ball carrier and a big, big human. He gets over that advantage line very well and that would suit their gameplan very well. So it will be a big job for myself and Christian Leali’ifano to nullify that ascendancy that he threatens.”
Ashley-Cooper, who will make his 80th Test appearance on Saturday, believes if he and Leali’ifabo can win the midfield then the backline will be able to produce much more than has been revealed in the first two encounters.
“Defensively we worked well as a unit,” he said. “We didn’t allow them through our line once. They had zero line breaks, so that is a really good stat and a good reflection of how we worked defensively.
“For us I think a lot of improvements can be made in the backs. I think possession was a bit of an issue. We need to hold on to the ball more as we’ve got too many threats in the backline to waste. So we are hoping to get the ball into the wider channels this week. There are a lot of players ready to unload. We starved the ball from the likes of (Joe) Tomane and (Israel) Folau and they still have a lot of things to achieve out there, especially in the wider channels.”
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