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Lions plan to play Welsh and with force

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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.

The British and Irish Lions are setting out to smash the Wallabies, using brute force and wanting to make the breakdown a real battleground, in a bid to break their 16-year series drought.

Six Nations winners Wales has dominated the Lions squad with 15 Welshman selected, Sam Warburton as captain and Warren Gatland as head coach.

England had 10 players picked, Ireland nine and Scotland three, with former Crusader wing-turned Braveheart Sean Maitland getting the nod.

Judging by the 37-man squad selected, the Lions will be aiming to bully the Wallabies with a massive pack and a big backline.

There were few surprises made by Gatland, with France-based fly half Johnny Wilkinson missing the cut along with current England captain Chris Robshaw, though it had been indicated previously that those playing in France would be overlooked.

The selections of the likes of Dylan Hartley, Manu Tuliagi, Mike Phillips, Manu Tuilagi, Dan Cole, Ian Evans, George North, Jamie Roberts aka ‘Dr Smash’, Richie Gray and others show the Lions will be a side filled with size, height and strength.

They will likely want to run over the Aussies, to confront them at every opportunity, as opposed to running around them.

It’s a squad built for smashing an opponent with traditional rugby, focusing on forward-driven and tactical kicking.

It’s also an experienced squad with Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell, both former Lions skippers, selected.

The front row is very strong and will be a huge challenge for the Wallabies to contain. Gethin Jenkins, Adam Jones, Cole, Stevens and their ilk are excellent scrummagers.

There is also strength in the lineout and the selections of the backrow displays that Gatland wants a fast and mobile, fetching six, seven and eight.

With Warburton, Jamie Heaslip and Justin Tipuric, they will seek to disrupt the scavaging efforts of Smith, Gill and Hooper.

With the speedy and dry grounds of Australia, the breakdown will be key, both at securing their own ball and stopping the Wallabies getting quick ball. The breakdown is a strength of the Aussies and the Lions will need to nullify that area.

The Lions have only picked two 10s, in Jonny Sexton and the young Owen Farrell, so they want consistency in a crucial position.
This could be a weakness though, with little variety there between the two and Farrell quite inexperienced.

It will be intriguing to see what Gatland has learnt in his recent battles with Robbie Deans’ Wallabies – with Australia gaining six wins from their past six encounters with Gatland’s Wales.

He has gone with a lot of players that he knows intimately and trusts in the Welsh contingent and their young captain.

Ben Youngs offers some spark and difference to Phillips more direct play at nine, while the selection of Kiwi-born flyer Maitland is a slight surprise considering his handful of caps for Scotland.

But Maitland is a talented back and probably would have become an All Black at some stage, if he had stayed in the Shakey Isles, so he will be a danger.

Notable emissions include Robshaw, England backs Chris Ashton, Brad Barritt and Billy Twelvetrees, Irish back Simon Zebo, Welsh utility James Hook and Scotland’s Greig Laidlaw. Pommy bolter Christian Wade was also overlooked.

It will be interesting to show how much the wiley and experienced O’Driscoll has left in his old legs and what the Irish and Scottish players in the squad, who beat the Wallabies in 2011 and 2012, can offer in terms of insight into defeating the home nation.

Australia has a sizeable challenge in front of it, even considering the fair job the Lions have of moulding a team together from four different countries with little time, and in winning their first series since South Africa in 1997.

There will be little opportunity for complacency in this series.

Australian teams are doing well in this year’s Super Rugby competition but the Wallabies should not be over-confident considering that has been their downfall in recent times.

Defeating the Lions would be a huge shot in the arm for Australian rugby, right across the board but particularly for the ARU’s coffers. Deans’ future in the top job also rests on the series result.

Here’s a possible Lions XV I see taking the field in Brisbane:

15 – L Halfpenny
14 – S Maitland
13 – B O’Driscoll
12 – J Roberts
11 – G North
10 – J Sexton
9 – M Phillips
8 – Faletau
7 –J Heaslip
6 – S Warburton
5 – P O’Connell
4 – R Gray
3 – A Jones
2 – D Hartley
1 – G Jenkins

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