Ashley-Cooper fears Lions in wide, open spaces

By , 08/08/2018 13:51

Dull, dreary and obsessed with the set piece … northern hemisphere sides generally come to Australian shores with a reputation for keeping it deathly simple on the rugby field.
Nanjing Night Net

The British and Irish Lions have fit the stereotype in one regard. Their scrum and lineout has been a well-oiled machine since the tour began with a rout over the Barbarians and Western Force, before facing sterner competition against the Queensland Reds and Waratahs.

But it has been their willingness to swing the ball wide that has impressed and in some ways surprised the locals. Depending on how conservative Robbie Deans plays his hand, it could be the tourists that play the more expansive game on Saturday night in Brisbane.

Tour games are not Tests by any stretch but Wallaby centre Adam Ashley-Cooper has seen enough to suggest the Lions will be chancing their arm at Suncorp Stadium.

There will be an inevitable tightening of play as the stakes rise, particularly with the accuracy of their goal kickers, but Ashley-Cooper believes the same blueprint will largely apply to the Tests as it has to the tour matches.

“Their ability to spread the ball has been quite impressive. Obviously they’ve come out with a very physical and confrontational approach to the start of the game and have that ability to throw the ball wide,” Ashley-Cooper said.

“You wouldn’t think too much would change. It seems they’ve had a little bit of consistency in the way they’ve approached each game.

“With the wingers they have, George North, (Sean) Maitland, (Adam) Cuthbert, it would be silly not to get the ball to those guys.”

This would guarantee a busy night for Ashley-Cooper, who should be named at outside centre when the Wallabies reveal their team on Thursday.

“From a backs perspective, it’s going to be tough. You have to consider the physicality and their great ball-running forwards and also have to defend the width they are capable of achieving,” he said.

“But Test match football is all about physicality and intensity. It’s quite simple when it comes to strategy and game plan but when it comes to intensity, it’s some of the toughest football you’ll play. They certainly have the characters and the ability to do that.”

The Waratahs utility, who has finally found a permanent home under Michael Cheika, is hopeful of coming face-to-face with Irish great Brian O’Driscoll.

After initially thinking he’d never been on the same field, a laughing Ashley-Cooper eventually realised he had faced O’Driscoll twice; once at 2009 at Croke Park and again in the Rugby World Cup.

To be fair, on one of those occasions he was on the wing and the other at fullback.

“I’m pretty sure I haven’t played him at 13. I want to though.”

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