Friday 23 February 2018

Conor George: Easy wins no preparation for Tests

Conor George

Conor George

This match was of limited – if any – value to coach Warren Gatland. It was too one-sided to be significant from any point of view.

When you pitch students, plumbers, salesmen, carpenters and a handful of professional players against some of the world's best rugby talent, you are never going to get a valid contest.

The Lions have played four matches so far on this tour. They ran past the Barbarians, beat an understrength Western Force comfortably and yesterday they gave the Combined Country side a spanking.

Their only meaningful outing so far was against a Quade Cooper-inspired Queensland Reds side. There is a real danger the Lions will be severely undercooked when they pitch back up in Brisbane for the opening Test against Australia on June 22.

Gatland professed ambivalence to the absence of a meaningful challenge against Combined Country – "we knew that was a possibility. We're not in danger of being undercooked" – but the expression on his face post-match told another story.

There is no suggestion the Australians are deliberately putting out weakened sides. The Reds, for example, played the strongest side they could. The Waratahs and the Brumbies will do the same over the next seven days.

But surely the folly of shoe-horning a game against the Barbarians into the schedule in an attempt to bolster the coffers as well as playing an amateur side in the lead up to the crucial opening Test should have been vetoed.

The Lions have not won a Test series since 1997 and the relevance of the tour at the end of a long season is in question. If the Lions don't beat the Wallabies, the future of the series will be up for debate.

Gatland was given a simple brief when he was appointed coach – win. It's why the Lions insisted he be free from his day job with Wales for a full year before this tour.

It is probable that the team that wins the first Test will win the series. Momentum in these situations is crucial. The Lions have one game in between the first two Tests – they play the Melbourne Rebels – but it is unlikely any of the Test team will feature.

The game against the Brumbies is four days before the first Test and, again, first-choice players are unlikely to be risked that close to the most important game of the tour.

That leaves just this weekend's game against the Waratahs as a possible blow-out for Test players who are in need of some serious opposition.

Games like last night's against the Combined Country should absolutely form part of a Lions tour... for the midweek 'dirt-tracker' team and not as a warm-up for the Test.

Gatland isn't slow in bringing out replacements, which indicates he is ensuring that training matches are full-blooded affairs – making up for the poor opposition they are facing in the official games perhaps?

Irish Independent

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