Last Tuesday morning Sydney Roosters coach Trent Robinson was conducting a video review of his team’s win over Manly the previous night at the SFS. It had been a good win, keeping them in second place behind their arch rivals from South Sydney, the Rabbitohs. In the circumstances there was much to be pleased about. Top of that list was a sequence of play where they had to defend a couple of sets too close to their line for comfort, whereupon they didn’t just lift the siege, they went after Manly with menace, and without drawing breath, and worked a score at the far end.
Robinson acknowledged that the successful defence could have been followed by a breather, and he was well pleased that that hadn’t happened. “We don’t do fatigue,” he said, to a room where you could hear a pin drop. “That’s just not us.”
It seemed an appropriate theme for Warren Gatland to adopt in the Lions camp. A Third Test that needed winning was not what he had in mind when planning the break up in Noosa. Thursday was travel day. Another travel day. And at this stage of the show packing the suitcase again and boarding the bus for the airport must have seemed like having your prison term lengthened on the eve of release.
The spin from the Lions camp is that the Wallabies will struggle to get to the same emotional level as last week when they saved the series. The return of serve from the locals is that their best form is about to unfold.
“(We’re) Very confident,” Will Genia said today. “We can honestly say we haven’t played our best footy right throughout the series thus far, and probably made too many errors to give ourselves an opportunity to play any fast-flowing footy. We were able to do that in the last 20-30 minutes of the Test match in Melbourne, and we will probably take a lot of confidence out of that moving forward. We just have to make sure we start well, you know?
“I think we have we been chasing a bit too much in the last two Tests, and just playing off the back foot. If we can start well, and give ourselves the opportunity to get into the game, we will definitely back ourselves to play some good running rugby and really have a go.”
That line is credible for three reasons: the Lions are more tired; the home team should always find their best rhythm in the final Test; and when it comes to emotional investment, the tourists scraped together every penny they had and put in on being 2-0 by close of business in Melbourne last Saturday. Seeing that go down the pan was painful.
Now they need a load of things to go right: a scrum that yields penalties; a lineout that for the first time in the series yields positive ball; and enough breaks in play to frustrate the home team. Expect the Wallabies to continue the tactic of offering up the front of the lineout, but more usefully – on two counts – to limit the number of Lions’ lineouts in the first place.
In each of the games in Brisbane and Melbourne the home team allowed the Lions 12 throws to the lineout. Keeping the ball in play – something Gatland used to aim for with Wasps and Wales, when he was so confident of their conditioning – would not only tire the tourists but reduce their chances of launching Jamie Roberts down the middle of the field.
As for the scrum, they will continue to hit off-centre, as the Lions successfully did to the physically superior Springboks in 1997, and hope that the disaster area that is the scrum in rugby continues to claim casualties, primarily the referee.
If they get that much right then their only worry is if George Smith can climb the sheer cliff face that is required in order to get to the pace of this contest after so long out of the picture. And with a readymade replacement on the bench in Michael Hooper, they don’t plan on asking him to see out 80 minutes.
If the Lions are still in the hunt when the clock is counting down to that figure then Warren Gatland will have worked wonders. More likely he will be looking at players who are going backwards, and gasping. Some of that Roosters mentality wouldn’t go amiss.