RugbyHeaven team of the week
15. Leigh Halfpenny (Wales) Photo: Getty Images
Occasions when the Irish, Scots and Welsh take any satisfaction from famous victories at Twickenham are rarer than accords stating all affairs are best run by the born-to-rule crowd from Westminster, but British and Irish Lions tours have always had a special alchemy.
So when, in the 58th minute of last week's 38-21 pummelling of the All Blacks, a giant young Samoan called Manu Tuilagi barged past Dan Carter, escaped from Richie McCaw and swatted away Aaron Smith, heads nodding their approval would have been sighted in Dublin, Edinburgh and Cardiff.
Until that point, only sporadic cheer had been taken from the efforts of the four nations against the southern hemisphere sides in the November and December Tests. After it, the possibilities seemed endless.
A 221-kilogram midfield combination of Tuilagi and Jamie Roberts running at Kurtley Beale, James O'Connor or, as now seems possible, Quade Cooper? It's the sort of thought that keeps Lions fans financially disciplined as they squirrel away their cash in tough times for next year's adventure.
Suddenly, it was game on.
The frightening thing, defensively, from Tuilagi's charge was that the quality of the ball was not that good. It came from a lineout move, but when England five-eighth Owen Farrell fed the monster he was not in full flight. Tuilagi was a little flat-footed, which ironically might have caused the All Blacks to drop their guards a little bit. It was the acceleration, the short distance in which he shifted that massive frame from second gear to fifth, that seemed to catch out two of the best defenders the game has seen. In a flash he was upon poor Smith, who was conceding about 30 kilograms in this catchweight contest and did not stand a chance. One delayed pass to Chris Ashton later and the right winger was over.
It's not as if the power hadn't been seen before. In June against the Springboks in South Africa, Tuilagi ran straight over Jean de Villiers, who has built a career tackling South African back-rowers of his own volition. But in that series, Tuilagi was equally as likely to run down a blind alley as through a brick wall. There was less of this offloading business that set up Brad Barritt for his try against New Zealand. The 21-year-old is developing his game.
Other acts of power from Lions candidates in November will also have been noted by Lions coach Warren Gatland, who was quoted last week as saying that when the Wallabies were troubled, they were troubled by the direct game. Scottish back-rower David Denton ran over McCaw and Owen Franks. Munster and Ireland hard nut Donnacha Ryan smashed into Argentines, as well as disrupting their lineout, and Roberts put on a thunderclap of a tackle on Samoan Tusi Pisi. If there is a theme developing here it is intentional: there will be a physical edge to Gatland's side. Of course sheer force will not be enough on its own. By the time of the third Test in Sydney next July, the Lions will already have been in Australia for more than a month. If Australian opposition is caught out by one approach they'll be ready for it the next time. Test teams are too clever, too analytical, to fall for the same tricks. Witness the change in Australia from Paris to London, or the change in the English from the Wallabies to All Blacks.
Accordingly, players such as Farrell, who not only can play at 12 as well as 10 but brings a different style than Irish five-eighth Jonny Sexton, come into their own. Leigh Halfpenny is another, a stepper in the back line to bring variation to a division packed with giants. Put rising Ulster winger Craig Gilroy in that category, too.
Yet it will be with the battering rams that the Lions will come most noticeably armed. Rugby sometimes cannot decide if it is a complex game or a simple one but the best coaches know it is both: breaking down the mysteries into simple messages for their troops. You suspect one of Gatland's will be, ''Let's go straight over over them before we go around them.''
How the Lions might look:
1. Cian Healy (Ireland)
2. Tom Youngs (England)
3. Dan Cole (England)
4. Donnacha Ryan (Ireland)
5. Geoff Parling (England)
6. Stephen Ferris (Ireland)
7. Sam Warburton (Wales)
8. Toby Faletau (Wales)
9. Ben Youngs (England)
10. Jonny Sexton (Ireland)
11. George North (Wales)
12. Jamie Roberts (Wales)
13. Manu Tuilagi (England)
14. Leigh Halfpenny (Wales)
15. Rob Kearney (Ireland)
16. Rory Best (Ireland) 17. Adam Jones (Wales) 18. Alex Corbisiero (England) 19. Richie Gray
(Scotland) 20. Sean O'Brien (Ireland) 21. Mike Phillips (Wales) 22. Owen Farrell (England)
23. Craig Gilroy (Ireland)
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