British & Irish Lions
Preview: Country XV v B&I Lions
Mon, 10 Jun 2013 12:17
Blades give locals a cutting edge
For the British and Irish Lions it is another step on a rocky road to the Test series against the Wallabies. For most of the players in the Combined Country XV it is the biggest match of their lives.
At least one member of the Country XV, coach Cameron Blades, knows what it takes to front up to the famous tourists.
The bulk of the Country XV - a collection New South Wales and Queensland Country players, with healthy dosage of Premiership club players from Sydney, Brisbane and Canberra - would not have come close to 'international' competition before.
Blades, a former Wallaby prop, played twice against the 2001 B&I Lions - tasting success with Australia A, before losing with New South Wales.
Both were occasions that have stuck long in his mind and he can't wait for a third crack at the tourists, this time as coach.
Blades said he has spent the last few days trying to piece together a team and a game plan, promising that the tourists will get a proper run-out.
"We will be looking to climb into them from the start and I'm really confident that my players will leave nothing out on the field," Blades said.
"We will be as competitive as we can and there will be a lot of aggression in the contact area and a lot of movement when we have the ball.
"We want to play at a high tempo, but a lot will depend on if the first couple of passes stick and how our attacks build. But we haven't got a Quade Cooper in our side who can open them up with a 30 metre pass.
"You have to remember that we will be going into the game off three training runs and a lot of these players have never played together before.
"As a coach I'm really excited at the prospect of taking on the Lions again, but I'm more excited for the players who will be having this once in a career chance to play against such a major touring team."
Blades was mightily impressed by what he saw from the Lions against the Reds in Brisbane at the weekend and believes everything is building to a wonderful Test series against the Wallabies.
Last weekend's game cost him the services of Reds star Beau Robinson, but the livewire flank still turned up for training to help out his teammates.
"I thought the Lions were outstanding against the Reds. I have been impressed with them all along the way on this tour. They can play the game in a variety of ways and it will be interesting to see what approach they take against us," added Blades.
"When you are picking from the best of four nations you are going to come up with a world class team. Losing Beau Robinson is obviously a blow, but the decision not to allow him to play because of his head knock at the weekend is the right one.
"Even so, what Beau has been able to do is pass on his passion, professionalism and enthusiasm to the rest of the players and give them an insight into what it was like to play against the Lions last weekend.
"We are massive underdogs on Tuesday and so it is more about performance than anything else. Nobody will be disappointed if we are behind on the scoreboard. And, if we manage to get a victory, it is going to be something that everyone will remember for a very long time.
"This is a chance for the country players to measure themselves against some of the best players in the world. Just look at our two young centres up against Brian O'Driscoll and Jamie Roberts.
"It is another step along the rugby career pathway for these players, a chance to put their name up in lights. It is always hard to know where you stand in the pecking order until you play in a game and an occasion like this."
Players to watch:
For the Country XV: There are 23 very exited players that will feature on Tuesday, but the most excited will be Newcastle centre Lewie Catt - a local club player, who will realise a dream very few players are privileged to experience. The players will also look to captain Tim Davidson for guidance.
For the B&I Lions: These players are all trying to put their hands up for selection in the Test team, but Sean Maitland, a Kiwi who qualifies for Scotland (and the Lions) through his paternal grandfather, and converted flyhalf Stuart Hogg will be closely scrutinised.
Head to head: They are worlds apart, literally - local Newcastle club player Lewie Catt (Country XV) against veteran multiple Lions and record-breaking Irish star Brian O'Driscoll. What kind of lesson will the master, O'Driscoll, teach the upstart?
2001: Lions beat NSW Country Districts 46-3, Coffs Harbour
1989: Lions beat New South Wales Country 72-13, Sydney
1966: Lions beat New South Wales Country 6-3, Sydney
1959: Lions beat New South Wales Country, 27-14, Sydney
1950: Lions beat New South Wales Country 47-3, Sydney
Prediction: It will be a major shock, probably one of the biggest in B&I Lions history, if this collection of local upstarts beat the tourists. It is not a matter of who will win, but by how much. The B&I Lions by 30 points or more.
Combined Country: 15 Nathan Trist, 14 Alex Gibbon, 13 Lewie Catt, 12 Tareta-Junior Siakisini, 11 Tom Cox, 10 Angus Roberts, 9 Michael Snowden, 8 Tim Davidson (captain), 7 Jarrad Butler, 6 Richard Stanford, 5 Blake Enever, 4 Phoenix Battye, 3 Tim Metcher, 2 Josh Mann-Rae, 1 Haydn Hirsimaki.
Replacements: 16 Tom Kearney, 17 Dylan Evans, 18 Rikki Abraham, 19 Rory Arnold, 20 Trent Dyer, 21 Adam McCormack, 22 Shaun McCarthy, 23 Dale Ahwang.
British and Irish Lions: 15 Sean Maitland, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Brian O'Driscoll (captain), 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 George North, 10 Stuart Hogg, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Sean O'Brien, 5 Ian Evans, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Alex Corbisiero.
Replacements: 16 Rory Best, 17 Ryan Grant, 18 Matt Stevens, 19 Alun Wyn Jones, 20 Toby Faletau, 21 Mike Phillips, 22 Jonathan Davies, 23 Leigh Halfpenny.
Date: Tuesday, June 11
Venue: Hunter Stadium, Newcastle
Kick-off: 19.30 (10.30 UK & Ireland time; 09.30 GMT)
Expected weather: A chance of showers late in the morning or afternoon. Light winds. High of 20°C and a low of 14°C
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)
Assistant referees: Angus Gardner (Australia), James Leckie (Australia) Television
With thanks to lionsrugby.com
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