Coaches earn their cash in tight series

All of the cards have finally been shown. Robbie Deans’ 31-man squad to face the British and Irish Lions has been announced, putting into place the final pieces of the jigsaw he hopes will be enough over the coming weeks.

Enough has also been seen of the Lions to make assessments about their quality: better than expected in wide areas and as strong as expected up front.

Fairfax Media breaks down the squads and finds them murderously difficult to split, certainly too close to make categorical predictions. It is up to the coaching panels now to eke out those marginal gains that might swing the series and decide their fortunes. It is Deans versus Warren Gatland, and it was always going to be thus.Front row

The Wallabies have been depowered by the loss of Tatafu Polota-Nau and Dan Palmer, while the Lions have been able to whistle up some real quality in Alex Corbisiero and Ryan Grant as replacements. The depth at No.2 behind Stephen Moore is a concern, even though Saia Faingaa will empty the tank, while the Lions can throw on the energiser bunny that is Tom Youngs or the experienced Rory Best. The one area that probably sends Deans reaching for the paddle board. Advantage: Lions.Second row

Stick Hugh McMeniman into the starting XV alongside James Horwill and Wallabies fans will be feeling fairly confident – but if the captain succumbs to injury fingernails will be nibbled. The Lions look to have good depth beyond Paul O’Connell and Alun Wyn Jones – the thinking man’s tight forward, Geoff Parling, was very good against the Reds – and they will need them. Advantage: LionsBack row

Deans might have lost Scott Higginbotham and George Smith, but he probably knows what his best back row looks like. Gatland’s captain, Sam Warburton, has been his least influential No.7. There will be some aggrieved back-rowers in the Lions camp when their first Test team is announced. Wycliff Palu needs to produce, because Michael Hooper or Liam Gill will, and if he does, so will the Wallabies. Draw.Halfback

The inclusion of just two halfbacks in the Wallabies squad indicates that Will Genia will play every minute of each Test, bucking the modern trend, but it’s been a few years since anyone described the Reds No.9 as your standard halfback. If the Wallabies give him quick ball they will win this series. The combination of Mike Phillips and Ben Youngs would be enough to make the Lions feel confident about any other opposition, but Genia is on another level.

Advantage: WallabiesFive-eighth

Hang a target around Jonny Sexton’s neck, because the Wallabies will go after him. There is no way the Wallabies will allow the Lions outside backs room to move, which means cutting down space – and time – for the No.10. Five-eighth is one area most would presume the Lions will carry an advantage – some judges rate Sexton as the world’s No.2 five-eighth – but we’re not convinced the gap is that great from him to James O’Connor, Kurtley Beale, Berrick Barnes or Christian Lealiifano. Draw.Midfield

Adam Ashley-Cooper is in top form, but do the Wallabies have the combination of power and guile that the Lions get with Jamie Roberts and Brian O’Driscoll? If Deans believed Quade Cooper was up to defending the No.10 channel against the Lions midfielders he’d be in the squad. Advantage: LionsBack three

The message from the Lions’ determination to keep the injured Tommy Bowe is that the Ulsterman and George North are clearly their top options on the wing. His absence could tip this one towards the Wallabies, despite the presence of the brilliant and brave Leigh Halfpenny at No.15. Any Wallabies combination from Israel Folau, Kurtley Beale, Joe Tomane, Nick Cummins and Digby Ioane is one infused with power, footwork and pace. Advantage: Wallabies.

Twitter: @whiskeycully

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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