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Midfield Maestro’s Reunited

Aside from losing the series, the great sadness for me at the final whistle of the Second Test of the 2009 British & Irish Lions tour of South Africa was that it seemed we would never see Jamie Roberts and Brian O’Driscoll play together again on that stage.

It is a part of what makes Lions tours so special, players and combinations are thrown together for a few short but glorious weeks, possibly never to be reunited, but in that space of time they can formulate partnerships so magical that the memory will last a lifetime.

Today, happily, I can say I was wrong. Tomorrow morning (in the UK) those two standout players from 2009 will join forces once again when the Lions take on the Combined New South Wales/Queensland Country XV.

How foolish I was to think that Brian O’Driscoll, the Brian O’Driscoll, the warrior, the leader, the ultimate competitor, might not have the legs to make it all the way to 2013 and Australia.

Of course there is no guarantee that they will perform as they did in 2009. They have an almighty task and responsibility on their hands too, regardless of the opposition, with young Stuart Hogg starting at fly half, the first time he has done so since school.

It is down to these two to guide him through the game, and indeed to look after Sean Maitland at full back behind them (Maitland is playing his first ever ‘international’ game at full back). That their task will be distracted by doing so is possibly an indictment of Warren Gatland’s ploy of only taking two fly halves on tour, on the other hand it is a sign of the regard in which he holds this fearsome duo, and indeed the two young Scots.

However, both Roberts and O’Driscoll have timed their run to form magnificently and have looked in fine shape in the latter stages of the domestic season and the opening exchanges of this Lions tour. The feeling is that if there is any hint of the ’09 spark then that will be enough to secure them 1st Test positions.

The other area that I am excited to see on Saturday is the back row combination, Sean O’Brien moves to six, a position that many feel is more natural to him. His Irish colleague Jamie Heaslip starts at 8 with the exciting Justin Tipuric at seven.

Make no mistake, despite the fact that the captain, Sam Warburton, and his chums Lydiate, Croft and Faletau are not included, this is a back row that could very easily start the first Test, and you would have to say that they are the form trio of the available seven back row players.

Back to the centres though, it was interesting to see that Robbie Deans has included Pat McCabe as one of the six names added to his Autralia squad (Quade Cooper, incidentally, is not one of them, though Kurtley Beale is). McCabe does not possess anything like the talents of his fellow Wallably backs but what he has got in abundance is a strong defensive understand and ability.

Robbie Deans has demonstrated in McCabe’s selection is that nullifying the Lions midfield threat is crucial to the Wallaby chances. Back in that wonderful 2009 tour, Roberts and O’Driscoll brutally exposed Adi Jacobs (the South African outside centre) in defence and Deans will be doing everything in his power to make sure that does not happen to his side.

When you have the quality of an in form Jamie Roberts and Brian O’Driscoll bearing down towards you though, sometimes all the planning in the world is not enough.

Call me sentimental, and many do, but I cannot wait to see these two back in action again. If they can combine as effectively again then the Lions task will become a whole lot simpler.

By Angus Savage

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