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Al Baxter: 5 Things We Learnt - British & Irish Lions v Waratahs

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By Al Baxter

1.       The Lions are playing hard at the breakdown:
The Lions built the win against the Tahs by being hard at the breakdown. Under a New Zealand coach the Lions have their mobile back row playing far more like those in a Kiwi side than a European side – gone are the big English lumbering number 6 & 8’s playing like second rowers and in their place are players like Warburton and Croft with speed, fitness and the ability to win ball at the breakdown. 
2.       Their goal kicking is superb
One of the consequences of being successful at the breakdown is that you win more penalties there, and with kickers of the calibre of Halfpenny and Farrell this is dangerous. Halfpenny showed that any penalty won in the opposition half means a good chance of the Lions coming away with 3 points – thus the great breakdown battle that is looming becomes an even greater point of focus for the Qantas Wallabies in the 3 Tests.
3.       They use great width in attack
The other area that Gatland has the Lions playing differently from the traditional home Rugby nations is the ability for them to play with great width on the first phase. The majority of the Lions’ tries so far on this tour have been achieved by getting past the opposition on the outside. I cannot imagine this will change for the Tests and may well also serve as an area of opportunity for the Qantas Wallabies because with the right defensive systems, these long passes from side to side can be exploited to catch attackers isolated and behind the advantage line. One way of doing this is with:
4.       Fast line speed in defence:
The Lions are using one of the simplest tools in defence to counter teams going wide and that is by having the defensive line rush the attack. This worked particularly well against the Waratahs (although they often pushed the boundaries of being offside) and if used well against the Qantas Wallabies may nullify some of the attacking advantage the Qantas Wallabies have out wide. The Reds side that played the Lions countered this well with long accurate passing after the defenders are committed.
5.       Excellent set piece (scrum in particular)
Once again, the Lions showed their expertise at the set piece with excellent scrummaging and solid lineout work. This will definitely be an area the Qantas Wallabies will be focusing in training this week and may well be the deciding factor in determining who starts in the forward pack for the Test in Brisbane.