British & Irish Lions face ‘biggest game of lives’

Alun Wyn-Jones: Skipper today. Picture: Getty
Alun Wyn-Jones: Skipper today. Picture: Getty
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THE British and Irish Lions will aim to end 16 years of hurt today by winning a Test series.

And assistant coach Graham Rowntree reflected the determined mood after the final training session at North Sydney Oval by admitting he was “fed up” over that long barren run.

The Lions and Australia stand 1-1 after two games and are separated by one point and one try following nerve-shredding encounters in Brisbane and Melbourne. Attention now switches to Sydney’s 84,000-capacity ANZ Stadium for a final showdown that has drama and tension written all over it.

The Lions last clinched a Test series in 1997, beating South Africa 2-1, and they know pressure is intense for them to end that painful wait.

“You can talk about four years ago, eight years ago, 12 years ago. It has been 16 years since we have had something like this,” Rowntree said. “Lads like [prop] Alex Corbisiero know the history of the Lions, know the magnitude of pulling on the jersey and know about the statistics. A win [tomorrow] will deliver the series for the here and now.

“Seeing how we’ve trained all week, crikey, we are ready for this battle. We saw the reaction from Australia [last weekend] after they beat us. Their captain James Horwill was crying. They threw everything at us and beat us by a point. We didn’t get our game going, and we know that. This is grand final rugby, the last throw of the dice with everything to play for.

“This is the biggest game of our lives, as players and coaches.”

The Lions are minus their last three tour captains – Sam Warburton and Paul O’Connell through injury, plus the dropped Brian O’Driscoll – but head coach Warren Gatland will still send out a team containing more than 600 Test caps. Two thirds of the line-up is Welsh, which reflects their European rugby domination during the past two years, with Ospreys lock Alun-Wyn Jones taking over as skipper. He is among six players who will have started all three Tests Down Under.

After winning a thriller in Brisbane two weeks ago, the Lions went into their shell last Saturday. They only lost 16-15, but offered little as an attacking force and were reliant on full-back Leigh Halfpenny’s prodigious goalkicking for their points. This time around, Gatland has changed half his pack and added the imposing physical presence of scrum-half Mike Phillips, suggesting that brawn – rather than brilliance – is the Lions’ planned victory card.