Lions on the prowl for success

2013-05-24 18:18
Warren Gatland (File)

Farrell battles distraction

2013-05-23 11:02

Watch England and British Lions flyhalf Owen Farrell battle bizarre distractions.

Sydney - The formidable British and Irish Lions fly out next week seeking their first series win in 16 years against an Australia team who are defending a proud record in what has become a classic fixture.

The cream of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales have not won a Test series since defeating South Africa in 1997 and on their last visit to Australia, they were edged out 2-1 in a titanic encounter with John Eales's Wallabies.

Such is the intensity of Lions series that Australia coach Robbie Deans warned his players that the quadrennial north-south hemisphere clash would go beyond anything they have known before.

"It will be a contest that our blokes have never experienced," said Deans. "Some of our blokes have experienced World Cup rugby, but I tell you the ante goes up even further."

The Lions begin their itinerary against the Barbarians in Hong Kong on June 1 before arriving in Perth to begin a 10-game journey, including three Tests, which traverses Australia and ends in Sydney's Stadium Australia on July 6.

Both the Lions and Australia are coached by New Zealanders, with Wales's Warren Gatland appointed as the tourists' second foreign handler and Deans with the Wallabies since 2008.

Despite the talent at their disposal, the Lions have failed to win Test series and memories endure of Australia 2001, when they missed out in a gripping decider.

A thumping 3-0 loss to New Zealand in 2005, and a 2-1 reverse against South Africa in 2009 has put the onus on the team, captained by Wales's Sam Warburton, the youngest Lions skipper in history.

And Gatland, who has seen his countryman Graham Henry and England's Clive Woodward, both World Cup-winning coaches, fail with the Lions, is in no doubt about the size of the task ahead.

"There is no question it is one hell of a challenge," Gatland said. "Playing in the southern hemisphere is one of rugby's hardest challenges."

Deans, 53, is the first foreigner to coach Australia, while Gatland, 49, follows Henry as the Lions' second overseas coach having led Wales to two Grand Slams and the 2011 Rugby World Cup semi-finals.

While Australia are the world's number two Test team, Deans has had a rocky build-up with playmaker Kurtley Beale entering rehab for alcohol problems and dangerous winger Digby Ioane undergoing a knee operation this week.

Deans has also drawn fire for omitting mercurial flyhalf Quade Cooper from his initial 25-man squad, which includes only one scrum-half so far in Will Genia.

But Deans can call on a hard-working pack, led by lock James Horwill, and some clever backs in Genia, James O'Connor, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Israel Folau, a rugby league and Australian Rules football convert.

"We understand what's coming, we understand the Lions have a very experienced and physical combination, they have a particular presence in the backline," said Deans.

"So we have to deal with that and then bring something of our own in terms of getting up and over the top of them. We believe we have put together a group that can cater for both elements."

Gatland has selected 15 Welshmen in his squad, Wales's largest Lions representation in 36 years. England has provided 10 players, while there are nine Ireland players and three from Scotland.

Gatland's biggest task is choosing the players and combinations from the 37-strong touring party. He has six tour games to fine-tune before the opening Test in Brisbane on June 22.

The physically imposing squad of 16 backs and 21 forwards is also steeled by the experience of two former Lions captains in Ireland's Paul O'Connell and Brian O'Driscoll, who is on his fourth successive Lions tour.

This is only the third Lions series in Australia that has been decided over three Tests, and its predecessors were both tight affairs.

The Lions clinched the 1989 series by a single point, when they prevailed 19-18 in the final Test in Sydney, while in 2001 the Wallabies won a thrilling decider 29-23 secured by a stolen lineout throw in the final seconds.

New Zealand's Henry later admitted that the 2001 trip to Australia burned him out before he recovered and went on to plot the All Blacks' victory at the 2011 World Cup.

"I now know that the position of Lions head coach is the most demanding in Test rugby," Henry reflected.

The Tests take place in Brisbane on June 22, Melbourne on June 29 and Sydney on July 6.


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