Monday 11 December 2017

Roberts insists Test side will notbe undercooked for series opener

Roberts: Not concerned by opposition
Roberts: Not concerned by opposition
Conor George

Conor George

JAMIE ROBERTS has dismissed the growing fears that the Lions will be undercooked and ill-prepared for the upcoming Test series against Australia.

The three-game series begins in nine days' time in Brisbane, by which time the Lions will have played six warm-up matches. So far they have played a pitiful Barbarians side, an understrength Western Force outfit and a team cobbled together from local plumbers, electricians, bathroom sales men, students and a couple of average professional players.

The one game of any consequence they have played was against the Queensland Reds last Saturday.

Saturday's game against Michael Cheika's Super 15 side Waratahs is, for all intents and purposes, the last chance before the Test series begins to get a meaningful challenge for, surely, Tuesday's game against the Brumbies is not one in which the Test players should be risked. Roberts didn't appear overly concerned with the quality of the opposition – even after the Lions' facile 64-0 win over Combined Country on Tuesday.

"If Warren (Gatland) doesn't feel we're getting the necessary challenge in games he'll replicate it in training," said Roberts. "And I don't think there's any danger of this squad being undercooked. The sports science team out here are second to none and it's about getting things right off the pitch as well.

"These matches are always part of Lions tours. That's the nature of it and the game against Country was a useful outing in a lot of ways. But I wouldn't worry about the quality of the opposition affecting our preparations.

"Like I said, if Gats doesn't feel that he's getting that intensity he'll raise it in training."

Roberts' optimism is entirely predictable. None of the players are likely to stray off script on this side of the Test series with starting berths still up for grabs.

There is no sense that the Test team is beginning to take shape. Will Gatland pick the in-form back-row, for example, or will he revert to type and select an all-Welsh back-row and accommodate his captain Sam Warburton on the blindside?

Surely Justin Tipuric must start at openside and one of either Sean O'Brien or Tom Croft should be the pick on the blindside.

Will Gatland see it that way?

The guessing games about a possible Test selection have started in earnest among supporters, the travelling press corps and the players who, Roberts confirmed, are as much in the dark as everyone else.

"We don't pick the team. We have no idea what way the coaches are leaning."

It has been suggested that the team named for the Waratahs game on Saturday will include a large selection of those who will start in the first Test. Roberts isn't convinced and believes that the game against the Brumbies will also offer players an opportunity to impress.

"I think Saturday will be tougher than the game against Country was certainly," he said, adding: "We don't have a clue as to a possible Test team.

"As individuals you want to play in every game for the Lions. Obviously, that can't happen and, as a squad, our objective is to win the series.

"Will the team that plays the Waratahs be the Test one? I don' know. I'm sure if boys impress enough in that Tuesday team they'll get their shot at the Test team. Warren has indicated that those who put their hands up will get selected."

Roberts was not at his best against the Combined Country side on Tuesday, but he is expected to partner Brian O'Driscoll in midfield when the series opens in Brisbane on June 22. England's Manu Tuilagi is also in the mix for the No 12 shirt, but Roberts' and O'Driscoll's relationship from the 2009 tour should sway it in his favour.

There are a couple of selections that are beyond question. O'Driscoll and Leigh Halfpenny will start at 13 and 15, for example.

However, the make-up of the front-row is open for debate. Much has been made of Rory Best's lack of accuracy out of touch, but Test favourite Richard Hibbard was off target with three of his darts against the Combined Country, while Tom Youngs has also had issues with accuracy this season.

"It'll be interesting to see the make-up of the Test side for certain," said Roberts. "Those players who make the Test team will have a responsibility and a job to do. But those players who don't make the starting team or the 23 have an even bigger job to do in my eyes in supporting the boys. Ultimately, we all want to achieve the goal of winning the Test series.

"That's why we're here and regardless of what team is picked, we're here as a collective with a common desire and determination."

Irish Independent

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