Wellington v British & Irish Lions
Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Wednesday 15th June 2005
KO: 7.10pm local time (8.10am BST)
Referee: Paul Honiss(NZ)
Touchjudges: Kelvin Deaker (NZ), Steve Walsh (NZ)
Television Official: Paddy O’Brien (NZ)
Coming off the back of the first defeat of the tour Sir Clive Woodward has put out a virtually full strength side, particularly in the back line fielding what some people consider to be the complete test back line for the first time together.
The Lions need to get back to winning ways and quickly to pull the squad together as a unit in order to get the series back on track. When all the talking has been done in the dressing room it must be the leaders in the side who take on this responsibility and it is now that they should stand up and be counted.
In all, there will be nine international skippers on the side of the Lions on Wednesday. Alongside tour captain Brian O’Driscoll will be Thomas, Robinson, Wilkinson, Corry and Back who have all captained their country, together with Bulloch, Hill and O’Connell on the bench. This team is full of leaders and they must be there to support O’Driscoll at this critical turning point of the tour.
The skipper has had his critics so far on this tour but there is nothing average about O’Driscoll, except maybe for his performance last Saturday against the Maori. The tour captain will need to be at his mercurial best to put behind him his lacklustre appearance last week and pull this team up by the boot straps. This is a golden opportunity for him to lead by example and become the catalyst of a turnaround in fortunes for this hurting side.
The eight other leaders alongside him will also need to ably assist their captain and display their leadership qualities to get on top of what is a talented Wellington side, albeit shorn of a few notable All Blacks.
Umaga, Collins and So’oialo might not be on the park on Saturday, but there are still enough good Super 12 and NPC standard players for the Lions to be wary of. In particular Ma’a Nonu who excelled in attack for the Possibles against the Probables a few weeks ago and the feisty Piri Weepu who featured in the NZ Maori side that beat the Lions only a few days ago.
This should be a match for Sir Clive and his charges to get their teeth into however and anything less than a good win against Wellington will prompt calls that Woodward is not learning from his mistakes for the fourth match in succession. The former England coach however is without doubt a master tactician and I would not be surprised at all the Lions style we are seeing now does not resemble the style of play we see in the opening test a week on Saturday.
Losing for the Lions is not an option this Wednesday. A wounded Lion is a dangerous Lion and we predict that the Lions will come roaring back with a good display that puts some pride back into this tour. The Lions to win by 14 points.