Sport Lions Tour

Friday 15 December 2017

Bowe blow forces Lions into rethink

Queensl'd Reds 12, Lions 22

Tommy Bowe with a broken hand
Tommy Bowe with a broken hand
Conor George

Conor George

TOMMY BOWE'S hunched shoulders and disconsolate expression served as a reminder of how cruel sport can be and how fickle is fate.

TOMMY BOWE'S hunched shoulders and disconsolate expression served as a reminder of how cruel sport can be and how fickle is fate.

Bowe's 47 minutes against the Queensland Reds in Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night had cemented his place in the Lions Test team.

The only question was on which wing. At the time of his substitution, the extent of his injury wasn't known but when the television cameras cut to him on the sideline, it became evident something serious was wrong.

With his hand heavily bandaged and a grim expression on his face, he looked a beaten man.

It was heart-wrenching, especially when one considered just how hard he had worked to put himself into contention after undergoing knee surgery earlier in the season.

"Unfortunately, it's another Irish guy down, it doesn't look too good," said Paul O'Connell after the game.

The nature of professional sport is that the players have to move on quickly. O'Connell empathised with his comrade but sentiment has no purchase on a Lions tour when the immediate demands of sport hold sway.

DISAPPOINTED

"The guys that get injured are very disappointed obviously but you've just got to get on with it," he added. "They move on fairly quickly; they start planning what they've got to do to get it right and the squad kind of has to move on as well.

"You're disappointed for them but the squad has to move on."

The good news is that Bowe's tour might not be over. He had surgery on his hand yesterday and will stay with the tour while his condition is assessed over the coming days. His Ireland team-mate Simon Zebo has been called up as cover.

Saturday's game was a fascinating encounter with a myriad of sub-plots attached.

For the Reds, this was billed as an audition for the Wallabies for their enigmatic captain Quade Cooper.

He was outrageously good at times. When he tapped and went from the first penalty deep inside his own 22 just minutes into the game, it was clear the 50,103 strong crowd were in for a rollercoaster of a ride and he didn't disappoint.

He danced, he pranced, he flung out passes left and right and he played with such verve and brio that the crowd loved and responded to his mesmerising entertainment.

But the watching Robbie Deans would not have been overly impressed when Cooper's performance was analysed more forensically.

He coughed up five turnovers on catches and passes, missed touch with two penalty kicks, missed two kicks for goal from in front of the posts, missed two of five attempted tackles and had a relatively poor 33pc gain-line success rate with ball in hand.

The Lions won't be concerned with Cooper's ongoing exile from the Wallabies squad – their roster will be completed today with six call-ups and he is not expected to be included – and instead will look to glean what positives they can from the outing.

"Our set-piece was excellent," said Warren Gatland. "We were solid in the scrum and had some great success out of touch. I was also pleased with how we handled the barrage from them in the opening 20 minutes especially when they really came at us. We were able to soak up that pressure and then kick on, which was hugely important."

That the Lions only managed to score one try to the Reds' brace is a slight concern as the Test series moves into view, which is why Bowe's injury and likely absence for the first Test at least is such a destabilising blow.

"Tommy was coaching the backs about what to expect in that game," revealed Conor Murray yesterday. "He is a huge influence on the squad. He has the experience from four years ago and has been really influential in training."

The performances of Welsh power-runner George North and scrum-half Ben Youngs are to be celebrated. Both were outstanding, with North coming in for particular praise from his coach after the game.

"George really showed up well with his carrying and his ability to break tackles. It is hard to look past Tommy's injury though. In terms of experience and ability to play in a number of positions, he is a huge loss. Hopefully he won't be too long recovering and will come back into the mix," added Gatland.

As a contest, Saturday night's game was wholly absorbing with the action rampaging up and down the field. So much was happening that you daren't turn away for the briefest of moments for fear of missing something outrageous.

The Lions took the practical route to victory, much to the distaste of the vociferous crowd. They booed every time Owen Farrell took aim for the posts and delighted when Cooper tapped-and-went.

The tactics worked in the Lions' favour as they won the match and while Cooper certainly entertained the crowd, it's likely the Australian coaching staff were not overly impressed with his covetous performance.

The Reds actually scored the game's opening try when the fantastically exciting Luke Morahan – he also denied the Lions a couple of tries with great tackles – was the beneficiary after a cheap and poorly executed up-and-under from Farrell.

SLALOMED

The winger gathered the ball and slalomed through three tackles before chipping over Stuart Hogg for the touchdown.

It was a gorgeous piece of work. Morahan then denied Farrell a try with a tackle on 33 minutes but from the resultant scrum, Ben Youngs got the touchdown when the ball squirted loose.

The Reds scored another try in the second half through Nick Frisby but Farrell kept the Lions in front with three more penalties for a 10-point win.

"I am very happy with where we are. Ideally I'd like another two warm-up games but, three matches in, we are well positioned, are undefeated and have been playing some good rugby," said Gatland.

"We have the Combined Counties on Tuesday and then things will start to really take shape for the Waratahs game on Saturday."

What will worry the Lions is that they were unable to create more tries. Youngs' touchdown was a piece of excellent opportunism and testament to his skills and alertness. But, otherwise, the Lions were unable to penetrate the Reds' defence.

They went close on a number of occasions, but were still outscored by two tries to one on the night.

Queensland Reds – B Lucas; R Davies, B Tapuai, A Fainga'a, L Morahan; Q Cooper (capt), N Frisby; B Daley, J Hanson, G Holmes, A Wallace-Harrison, E O'Donoghue, E Quirk, B Robinson, J Schatz. Replacements: R Samo for O'Donoghue (11-18), A Anae for Daley (22), J Owen for Holmes (35), D Shipperley for Morahan (44), M Harris for Fainga'a (52), J Butler for Robinson (54), Samo for Wallace-Harrison (54), J Lance for Frisby (64), Frisby for Lucas (69), S Denny for Anae (76).

LIONS – S Hogg (Glasgow); A Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues), M Tuilagi (Leicester), J Davies (Scarlets), T Bowe (Ulster); O Farrell (Saracens), B Youngs (Leicester); M Vunipola (Saracens), T Youngs (Leicester), M Stevens (Saracens), R Gray (Sale), G Parling (Leicester), D Lydiate (Newport Gwent Dragons), S Warburton (Cardiff Blues, capt), T Faletau (Newport Gwent Dragons). Replacements: G North (Scarlets) for Tuilagi (19), J Sexton (Leinster) for Bowe (47), D Cole (Leicester) for Vunipola (64), R Hibbard (Ospreys) for T Youngs (64), A Jones (Ospreys) for Stevens (64), P O'Connell (Munster) for Gray (64), J Tipuric (Ospreys) for Warburton (75).

Ref – J Garces (France)

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