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Rampant Lions reign in Sydney

British and Irish Lions victory over Australia will of course be seen as a vindication of Warren Gatland's selection and tactics. There are a lot of pundits eating their words today. However, the most controversial decision, to drop Brian O'Driscoll, wasn't the one which made the difference on the scoreboard today.

Gatland's selection of Toby Faletau was long overdue. He was everywhere on the pitch today, hitting rucks, winning turnovers, tackling, breaking the gain line. He is the complete modern number 8. Who knows what might have happened had he been picked for the earlier tests.

It doesn't matter now, of course. The series is won. On the western side of the Severn Bridge, we can all crow “I told you so.” But surely everyone knew Gatland was always going to play a power game, with players he was familiar with? He didn’t earn the nickname “Cementhead” for nothing. There were some concessions to expansive rugby early on in the series, but quite honestly, they never really worked. The tactics in the second test were conservative in the extreme, and might have worked had the Lions been able to select Jamie Roberts and Alex Corbisiero.

For the third Test, Gatland went back to his tried and tested, and it was a spectacular success. The chances to move the ball wide were few and far between. For the most part, the Lions concentrated on beating the Aussies up at scrum and breakdown. It didn’t matter that the line out was shaky; the tight five annihilated their opposite numbers. A lot had been said about the influence of French referee Romain Poite, and he had an excellent game, and allowed the scrum to be a fair contest for once in this series.

The Lions had about 4 chances to put the ball through (mostly Welsh) hands, and they took them all with deadly precision. Jonathan Davies showed his classy sleight of hand on several occasions. Brian O’Driscoll he may not be, but he can sense a gap and put his man in it, and that is all you need when that man is George North or Leigh Halfpenny.

When we look back, we will see that the die was cast before the second test. Losing Corbisiero and Roberts meant that the Lions were unable to use the scrum as a means of winning penalties, and were unable to play beyond the gain line to keep the Aussies on the back foot. In the end, Gatland’s decisions were made for him. The players he needed to do the job in the final test were fit, and he picked them. Not so controversial after all.

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