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Preview: 'Tahs v Lions

 Jun 14,2013
Written by: SARugby.com Editor
 

Donal Lenihan's words "we were set up" stick in the memory from 2001, the last time the British and Irish Lions faced the Waratahs in a feisty clash.

The then Lions tour manager was seething in the dressing room at full-time after fly-half Ronan O'Gara was set upon by Duncan McRae. ROG copped several punches on the ground from the Australian back who saw - and was shown - red before the tourists saw out the match 41-24.

"I think those days have gone," said Waratahs head coach Michael Cheika when quizzed about the incident that marred the on-field action.

"Even back then, it was over the top.

"But physicality can occur in lots of ways - rucks, scrums and the contacts have got to be big."

Chieka did insist, however, that his men wouldn't be holding back when they run out this weekend.

"We have to be big. We can't hope just to contain them, and we can't hold anything back. If we have that mentality over 80 minutes, we might put a bit of a dent in their tank," he added.

"Anything in red that moves we'll have a go at it."

Cheika deserves a great deal of credit for what he has achieved at the 'Tahs in such a short space of time since moving from Leinster in the off-season. Long renowned as being a boring team in terms of playing style, it's worth noting that the Australian franchise are top of the Super Rugby try chart. One reason for that - barring that hammering of the Kings - has been an increase in tempo from the team and a reduction in kicking their possession away.

We don't expect there to be plenty of scores in this one though as, like the Reds fixture of last week, Test match intensity should be on show as the Lions look to iron out flaws en route to continuing their winning momentum coming up to the first showdown on June 22.

Consequently this fixture could well be a tight one, with former student of Chieka, Jamie Heaslip predicting his "hard nut" of a boss to be tough to crack.

"He always kept you under the pump. He demanded the best from players," the Irish number eight told reporters ahead of the fixture that could decide the Test line-up.

"He was a hard nut, some would say a madman at times.

"He was a fiery character but I had a lot of time for Cheiks.

"I was really blessed because he was a back-row player and I was just lucky because he would kind of see the game as I would see it."

Cheika's inside track on some of the Lions players could well play a role in the contest, which is another reason why we feel this one will be tighter than the 25-point handicap suggests. Expect a physical affair, one that will lead to the Lions' probable Test front-five playing a role in gaining the upper hand against their under-strength rivals. If they manage that then Mike Phillips' strength and Leigh Halfpenny's goal-kicking should do the rest.

Ones to watch:

For Waratahs: Super Rugby's most efficient finisher on tries to games ratio, Cam Crawford, will be an unknown to many British and Irish Lions fans. Seven scores in just six outings make him a deadly weapon and it is worth noting that the 'Tahs are the competition's top finishers thus far in 2013 with 43. Robbie Deans' decision to allow Rob Horne back into the midfield is a boost while Dave Dennis starting is probably more of a fillip due to their pack absentees. Also keep an eye on the attacking weapon that is Bernard Foley from fly-half, who has been released from a pre-Rugby World Cup Sevens camp to play in this one.

For British and Irish Lions: While it will be a huge match for captain Sam Warburton, the question of who will start on the blindside is one that divides opinion. Dan Lydiate has played a decent amount of minutes and seems a favourite of Warren Gatland while Sean O'Brien's destructive qualities make him a must in the 23. But for his unique abilities, Tom Croft is our pick for the game. The Leicester Tigers and England flanker hasn't had much of a chance to shine on tour but in Sydney will be pressing his claim to don that number 6 shirt in Brisbane on June 22. A quality back-row who we expect to do just that on Saturday.

Head-to-head: One of the under-rated players in Super Rugby meets a flanker under real pressure to perform as Pat McCutcheon collides with Sam Warburton. McCutcheon has been impressive all year in Sydney with his strong carrying and general workrate while Wales skipper Warburton seemed to be a touch off the pace against the Reds a week ago. Those saying he may not start the Tests are not on the money in our opinion as Gatland's clearly readying his flank for the series by using him in these Saturday games. It would also unsettle the team should he leave him out so one hopes Warburton silences the doubters.

Prediction: Expect the visiting pack to get on top which will lay the foundations. Lions by 12!

The teams:

Waratahs: 15 Drew Mitchell, 14 Cam Crawford, 13 Rob Horne, 12 Tom Carter, 11 Peter Betham, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Brendan McKibbin, 8 Dave Dennis (capt), 7 Pat McCutcheon, 6 Jed Holloway, 5 Ollie Atkins, 4 Will Skelton, 3 Paddy Ryan, 2 John Ulugia, 1 Jeremy Tilse.
Replacements: 16 Luke Holmes, 17 Richard Aho, 18 Sam Talakai, 19 Lopeti Timani, 20 AJ Gilbert, 21 Matt Lucas, 22 Ben Volavola, 23 Tom Kingston.

British and Irish Lions: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Michael Phillips, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sam Warburton (c), 6 Tom Croft, 5 Paul O'Connell, 4 Alun-Wyn Jones, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Tom Youngs, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Richard Hibbard, 17 Alex Corbisiero, 18 Dan Cole, 19 Geoff Parling, 20 Dan Lydiate, 21 Ben Youngs, 22 Owen Farrell, 23 Rob Kearney.

Date: Saturday, June 15
Venue: Allianz Stadium, Sydney
Kick-off: 19.40 (local)
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Jérôme Garcès (France), Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Television match official: Keith Brown (New Zealand)
Assessor: Scott Young/Andrew Cole (Australia) 

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