Deans fires Lions breakdown warning
The contest at the breakdown will be a "huge" part of the British and Irish Lions series and will need to be strictly managed by referees if the tests are to be any kind of spectacle, Australia coach Robbie Deans believes.
Neutral referees New Zealand's Chris Pollock, South African Craig Joubert and France's Romain Poite will officiate the three tests in June and July and Deans said they must take firm control of the tackle area.
"You look at World Cups, the ante goes up and the breakdown changes and the nature of the game changes and I suspect this will be no different," Deans told a small group of reporters this week.
"Just the adrenaline that'll be pumping through these blokes' veins, there's going to be a lot of pressure on the referees to manage that area.
"Because if that area isn't managed effectively, everyone's talking about the spectacle and so forth, there'll be no spectacle, you'll struggle to find the ball.
"You can only work in the circumstance that you're confronted with, so hopefully that will be an area that is adjudicated consistently and effectively.
"Otherwise it will just be ...," he petered off, making his point by banging his fists together.
Fortunately for Deans, he has no shortage of talent at openside flanker to contest the breakdown, even if his first choice David Pocock has been ruled out of the series by a knee injury.
"There's some class players," he said. "You look at that cluster of David Pocock, Michael Hooper and Liam Gill, they're almost three once-in-a-generation players.
"It's fantastic, and they're still young men so they've got a lot of rugby ahead of them."
Soon to be added to that pool is George Smith, who played all three tests in the 2001 series against the Lions and looks likely to be cleared by his Japanese club to feature again this year.
"He's just class," Deans said.
"When David Pocock turned up and we had the two of them I was really hopeful we were going to have them side-by-side, it would have been great for both of them because they'd both drive each other, but also give them respite because it's an area where there is a high attrition rate.
"But obviously at the time it was an understandable decision from George with a young family and four young kids and he wasn't seeing a lot of them with all the travel in the southern hemisphere.
"It worked out well for him and he's been lucky enough, it would appear, to come back and get a rare plum as well in a Lions series, so it's worked out well."
Although resources are slimmer at blindside flanker, Scott Higginbotham has been in fine form for the Melbourne Rebels filling in for Gareth Delve as captain and at No 8.
"Scotty's responding really well to captaincy," said Deans.
"You can't ask something of people around you if you are not up for it yourself.
"That's brought a real consistency to his approach to the game and it's probably stimulated him to be fair.
"It's got him thinking about what's important."
Higginbotham's selection at No 6 for the test side ahead of more workmanlike candidates like Dave Dennis would indicate that Australia will be adopting an expansive style of play.
Deans said the Wallabies "had to" look to their traditional strengths if they were to beat the Lions but fans should not expect his team to run the ball from every opportunity.
"That's the way you remember it when you win," he laughed. "(But) there'll be ball movement, don't worry about that."