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Wallabies vs Lions matching the backlines

  
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24/04/2013
By The Roar


 Fan article originally published on The Roar's sports opinion website. Submit your own rugby article to The Roar for potential publication on Rugby.com.au.

Soon the British and Irish Lions will embark on the journey to Australia. Having read a lot articles and opinions from both sides, I thought I would put down what I would consider to be priorities for both coaches.

It is true that when selecting any team it is an impossible task to please everyone.

From the Lions’ perspective to keep supporters happy from the four home nations will be all the more challenging.

Even in Australia you have interstate opinions that can differ. When you look at the first Wallaby training squad that has been announced by Robbie Deans, you can see the omission of Quade Cooper.

The squad is made up of a mixture of players in great form but then also some players who are there purely on reputation and who have not played a lot of rugby this season.

You would think though that Deans needs an experienced group of players and hopefully they will all have recovered and played themselves into some form come June.

Combinations are what will make either side successful.

I don’t think Deans has much choice in selecting Will Genia and Cooper.

The truth is players such as Kurtley Beale and James O’Connor are simply not experienced enough in the 10 position and have not played there consistently enough to really prove they are up to it.

Bernard Foley himself has shown some glimpses but I doubt he is even on the radar, the experiment with Christian Lealiifano has failed and when it comes down to brass tax, it really does only leave Cooper and Genia.

What is an interesting inclusion is Israel Folau who has been stirring up the media since the beginning of the season, but in my view his inexperience at high level rugby doesn’t suggest he should be in a match day 22.

The reality of positional play, when to attack from deep or when to kick is still very new to him, his main focus thus far has been to run the ball in and then offload to Drew Mitchell who would make the running.

Perhaps his confidence will still grow, but there isn’t much time left.

As play makers in my thoughts there are two players in contention for the 12 axis and that is Lealiifano and Ben Tapuai, once again looking at combination perhaps adding Tapuai to the 9, 10, 12 combination of Genia, Cooper and Tapuai makes sense to me.

Unless Folau can prove his worth in the next number of weeks you would think Jesse Mogg has the inside track at 15 with Kurtley Beale seemingly on hiatus for the time being.

Adam Ashley Cooper in my view is the 13 for the Wallabies. He is hard running, 100% committed to the cause and his experience will be invaluable for the Wallabies.

The two best wingers in Australia for me are Alfie Mafi and Digby Ioane.

So from a neutral stand point here is my Wallaby backline.

9. Will Genia
10. Quade Cooper
11. Digby Ioane
12. Ben Tapuai
13. Adam Ashley Cooper
14. Alfie Mafie
15 Jessie Mogg

That leaves the very talented James O’Connor on the bench, whether you want to look at it from a lucky or unlucky to be on the bench perspective, for me he has become the ultimate utility back in Australia a highly talented Jack of all trades, but sadly master of none.

Turning to the Lions backline.

I will start off by saying the back three as a combination should be North, Cuthbert and Halfpenny. If on form and not having just returned from injury I would not have hesitated to pick David Kearney who in my opinion is the best fullback in the northern Hemisphere.

You could argue that Hogg from Scotland could make a case for himself, as his pace and elusive running might just be what the doctor ordered for a Lions backline that in my view will be quite devoid of creativity.

This is not a slant on them, but a reality.

The midfield pairing once again could throw up some issues for Warren Gatland as he would want to look at Brian O’Driscoll, but it is doubtful that he is still up to the rigours of a three Test Lions series.

The next best centre combinations are either that of Jonathan Davies and Jamie Roberts or Manu Tuilagi and Bradley Barritt.

You can use either Tuilagi or Roberts as the battering rams, but I would actually make a switch and although combinations are for me the best solution, I would put Jonathan Davies inside of Tuilagi.

He would then be able to run off the space created by Davies who in my view is about the only centre in the UK with some offloading skill and he can be quite quick of the mark with an eye for a gap.

Halfback is a conundrum, Sexton for me is the best 10 of the home nations, therefore when you look at combinations you would argue Murray and Sexton should be the pivots.

And I am not going to argue with that, Ben Youngs and Danny Care are both talented halfbacks, but is Farrell really going to make a dent in the Australian defence?

So here is my Lions backline.

9. Connor Murray
10. Johnny Sexton
11. George North
12. Jonathan Davies
13. Manu Tuilagi
14. Alex Cuthbert
15. Leigh Halfpenny.

There you have it, a neutral perspective of who each of these coaches should select for their backlines.

This all of course injury permitting.

I just don’t think the Lions will bring much creativity, the Wallabies will be able to defend the hard running lines which are sure to come from Tuilagi, North and Cuthbert.

It is Sexton and Davies who would have to do something different.

On the Australian side, Genia will be the pivot that everything depends on, if he can create time and space for Cooper then you could expect some magic from the Ozzie backline.

It will be a battle where the Lions will play direct with attempted quick ball from the breakdown and for that specific reason I didn’t include Philips at half back as I believe his service is far too slow.

Whomever Deans picks at seven will have the responsibility to slow down their ball as much as possible.

But the discussion of the forwards will be for another day.

*Disclaimer - Views expressed within this story are not necessarily the views of the ARU or rugby.com.au