Friday 19 January 2018

O'Brien on mission to prove folly of first Test exclusion

Simon Zebo
Simon Zebo
Conor George

Conor George

IRELAND'S Simon Zebo has already highlighted the need for players to take every opportunity afforded them to make an impression.

Zebo's natural exuberance and optimistic nature means he genuinely believes there is an opportunity for players to force their way into the Test 23. He's not wrong.

It is unlikely Zebo (pictured) will force his way past George North, Tommy Bowe and Alex Cuthbert. He should have been on the bench ahead of Sean Maitland on Saturday but that wasn't the most frustrating of Warren Gatland's selection decisions.

That was reserved for the decision to omit Sean O'Brien from the matchday 23. O'Brien was togged out and sat on the bench but as the 24th man, just in case someone pulled up during the warm-up.

"It was frustrating," O'Brien said. "I had to prepare like I was going to play just in case anything did happen.

"Doing the warm-up and feeling that buzz and then sitting on your chair for the rest of the match is disappointing. But we all have a chance this weekend to stake a claim again and go out and show what we can do."

How effective would O'Brien have been with ball in hand during the final 20 minutes of that first Test?


Australia were reeling from the physical battle that marked the occasion. At times the physicality was unrelenting and enough to make the eyes water. Australia's decimated backline and Paul O'Connell's fractured arm bear testament to that.

The sight of O'Brien running at their beleaguered defence with the ball tucked under his arm would have terrified the Australians.

It beggared belief that O'Brien's versatility and abilities did not merit the place on the bench that went to specialist blindside flanker Dan Lydiate, who captains the side this morning in Geoff Parling's stead as the England international will replace O'Connell in the Test team on Saturday.

Lydiate did see action in the first Test when he replaced Tom Croft but he was anonymous and must surely be under pressure to keep his place on the bench.

If O'Brien turns in yet another strong performance against the Rebels this morning surely he will be promoted to the replacements bench at the very least for the second Test.

"The coaches are telling us that we have a chance to break into the side and we have to put trust in them," said O'Brien. "We have another match to play and there is no point going out thinking we haven't a chance – that will only affect your performance.

"You have to do the best you can every opportunity you get in a Lions jersey."

O'Brien will not be alone in attempting to influence the selection for Saturday's second Test. His Ireland and Leinster team-mate Rob Kearney also has plenty to play for in this game.

That the full-back was not at his best in the loss to the Brumbies was understandable as it was his first start in a number of weeks. If he shows a return to form today he will be a more palatable choice than Maitland for the bench.

This game has the potential to be an intriguing contest. The Rebels are well down the pecking order in the Super 15 and are without their Wallabies Kurtley Beale, James O'Connor and Nick Phipps but coach Damien Hill has selected a competitive side.

"We've got a number of players on this team who are aspiring to be players for the Wallabies in the next couple of years and there's no better arena to be in to test those skills," said Hill.

"We want to test ourselves against the best and this is a great opportunity to do that. Just look at that back three, with Kearney and Zebo, it's a very good attacking back three."

Lions forwards coach Graham Rowntree ensured that the tourists will certainly be competitive with his guarantee that "some of those playing on Tuesday will run out on Saturday" and he suggested that the Rebels will cause them problems.

"There are a lot of familiar names from the analysis we've done of their Super 15 outings," he added.

The Lions' last midweek game was a defeat against the Brumbies. They bounced back to win Saturday's Test but, with all that's happened in the meantime, they desperately need to win this morning to build momentum for Saturday's second Test.

Irish Independent

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