THE British and Irish Lions will encounter a weaker-than-expected Western Force team in their first match in Australia, the Perth-based side naming an inexperienced line-up yesterday with one eye on the weekend’s Super Rugby clash.
Wingers Corey Brown and Dane Haylett-Petty, centres Chris Tuatara-Morrison and Ed Stubbs, hooker James Hilterbrand and full-back Sam Christie were all selected to start today’s match at Patersons Stadium, the six combining for just 20 Super Rugby appearances between them.
Brown and Tuatara-Morrison have not played in the Southern Hemisphere competition before, while the replacements bench contains five other novices.
The Force are bolstered by former Wallaby backrower Matt Hodgson, experienced scrum-half Brett Sheehan and international tighthead prop Salesi Ma’afu, but head coach Michael Foley explained that other first teamers were being held back for Sunday’s fixture against the New South Wales Waratahs.
“Ideally, you would like a week between games rather than four days,” Foley told reporters in Perth yesterday.
“I think just to be able to sit down and pick a team and reassess and pick another team.
“We have had to juggle our squad across two games.
“Realistically, we weren’t going to be able to meet the challenge and do it justice by trying to pick the same 22 guys twice.”
Foley’s Force are coming off a bye week and the former Wallabies hooker hinted he could have played a stronger team if the Lions had played his side on Saturday instead of starting their tour against the Barbarians in Hong Kong.
The Force are currently bottom of the Australian Conference in Super Rugby with only three wins from their 14 matches this year and the Lions were expected to record a significant victory today even before Foley’s team announcement.
The Perth side have, though, shown they should not be underestimated, with upset wins over the All Black-laden Canterbury Crusaders and 2011 Super Rugby champions the Queensland Reds this year. Both victories can be credited to a fearsome defensive effort, something that they have failed to produce consistently for 80 minutes in matches this year.
“Our guys play for each other, but there are some things in our game we need to work on,” added Foley, the former Waratahs coach. “If you look at our defence and how hard we fight in that area, we are going to be tested tomorrow night, there are going to be some enormous challenges that the Lions are going to pose but we have developed a very strong defensive mentality. Our work at the breakdown has improved through the year and there have been some good positive signs in attack.”
Powerful lock Hugh McMeniman and stand-off Sias Ebersohn are two regulars who have been left out of the 23, while exciting winger Nick Cummins and back rower Ben McCalman are absent because they are involved in the ongoing Wallabies training camp in Sydney.