Oval Talk

Time to rethink Lions tour schedule?

Oval Talk

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While the occasion, intensity and drama has bolstered the relevance of the Lions tour, the casualty list on both sides suggests the structure of future Test series needs tinkering with.

Paul O’Connell and Alex Corbisiero are the latest two to pull out for the Lions, while five Australian backs are also doubtful for Saturday in Melbourne.

With the next two Tests coming inside a fortnight it may be a case of 'last man standing' come the end of the third match in Sydney.

In comparison, the three-match State of Origin between New South Wales and Queensland - the toughest rugby league played anywhere in the world - has three weeks between matches.

Obviously any extension to future tours would be frowned upon by the players’ clubs but the current itinerary does not seem to take into account the pure impact that comes with these games with players weighing in at up to 25 per cent more than their counterparts did a generation ago. And as Israel Folau showed bigger does not always mean slower.

Although overcoming adversity is a part of any tour story, if up to half of both sides' best players are on the sidelines is it time to reconsider the current schedule?

Kurtley Beale was treated kindly by the Australian media after his two late misses - likely a result of his recent alcohol treatment as well as his fine performance ball in hand - with News Limited writer Jim Tucker blaming his “stupid moulded-sole boots” for denying his side a famous win.

“Beat a team that has no right to lose in a tight finish and the mental straitjacket can be suffocating,” Tucker said.

It’s certainly true that a loss would have made it much harder for the Lions to get over the absence of 2009 captain O’Connell.

Reputations are unfairly inflated and deflated by such moments. If a couple of shots from other players in game six and seven in the NBA finals had gone in LeBron James would be facing an avalanche of unwarranted questions about his capacity ‘in the clutch’.

Similarly, Warren Gatland would have recorded his ninth straight defeat against Wallabies had the kick gone over and constantly been reminded about it this week.

To blame luck either way is going too far though. If it had not been Beale’s responsibility, it would have been James O’Connor, who earlier missed three from five, and if not him the luckless debutant Christian Lealifano, whose game lasted less than a minute.

No option was as rock solid as Leigh Halfpenny whose boot could prove as pivotal to victory in Australia as Neil Jenkins’s was in South Africa 16 years ago.

Beale will likely get a chance to make amends starting at ten in the second Test, with James O’Connor, the bete noire of Australian rugby fans, shifted elsewhere on the backline.

Though the Lions did a lot of things well and should not too shaken by the events of the last quarter of the first game, it was incredible to see them let Will Genia get so much space when they did not have to worry about the fly half. With Beale outside him, the world’s best number nine will be an even tougher man to stop.

Perhaps where they were most remiss was in underestimating the impact of Folau.

An Australian journalist told me some English rugby writers acted as if Folau had come from another planet when he made his stunning impact on the game.

In an age when video highlights take seconds to call upon it is amazing anyone in rugby union could be so sceptical about rugby league players' ability to adapt to the game as English football fans were about ‘Carlos Kickaball’ foreigners in the early 1990s, especially given the impact of Jason Robinson and Sonny Bill Williams.

The Lions should be grateful South Sydney and Queensland back Greg Inglis wasn’t tempted to switch codes when his career was at the crossroads two years ago. Then they would be in trouble.

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