Warren Gatland has backed himself into a corner by naming Sam Warburton as Lions captain according to Jim Telfer, who believes Justin Tipuric is the man who would make the biggest impact against the Wallabies.
The Ospreys flanker has been arguably the standout player on the tour so far, shining against the Barbarians both on the floor and with his support play, before another polished display, albeit against limited opposition, on Tuesday.
Warburton, by contrast, had to wait until the third game against the Reds to make his first tour appearance, a knee injury keeping him out of the first two matches, before an underwhelming display in Brisbane.
However, with Warburton guaranteed a starting spot by dint of the captaincy, and the competition at blindside ensuring that it will almost certainly be at No.7, Telfer admits the Lions are likely to be missing a trick without Tipuric.
He explained to The Rugby Paper: “I think Gatland’s backed himself into a corner by having Warburton as his captain, whether he will be able to get out of that corner we’ll have to wait and see.
“Warburton’s not really my sort of seven, he’s not really an attacking openside and if the Lions get the domination up front from the tight five, it would be a shame not to have Justin Tipuric.
“He’s been very good so far, he’s great as a support player, like Tom Croft. But where Croft is very good out in the wider channels, Tipuric can do it anywhere.
“You see him in the thick of the action and he’s done very well. But the problem is that he’s up against the captain.
“I think Gatland’s going to go with an all-Welsh back row, but you worry a bit about the carriers in there. Dan Lydiate is very good defensively with a great work rate. But I like to see a little bit more. Someone like Sean O’Brien gives you that extra bulk and could look after the defensive side of it as well.
“I look at Rocky Elsom and what he used to be able to do, not just tackling but offering that attacking aspect as well, that’s what I’d like from a six.
“I like Jamie Heaslip as well, but I think that Gatland will go with Toby Faletau at No.8. He likes him, and he’s a very talented player as well.”
With the all-Welsh back row that took Gatland’s side to a World Cup semi-final likely to be in place, Telfer warned that there could well be a lack of heavy duty carriers in the Lions pack.
According to the Scot, that could play in the favour of Mako Vunipola, another of the standouts on the tour so far, with Ian Evans potentially another beneficiary in Brisbane.
He added: “With the back row that I think he is going to pick, you really need to have a carrier in the second row.
“That’s why I think he is going to go with Ian Evans. Paul O’Connell is a great player and will give it everything but he’s not a great carrier. Evans missed a lot of time with a leg injury so hasn’t been talked about as much.
“But he’s a similar build to Richie Gray, only he plays a little tighter. So I think he’ll get a chance.
“It’s the same for Mako Vunipola, who they have been pushing for weeks. The other slightly stronger scrummagers have gone home, including Cian Healy, who could have done that carrying.
“I think they will go with Mako now because they need someone who can carry the ball like that.
“One thing Gatland will have to cope with though, is that he can’t really give his full team a run-out before the first Test.
“With the last game being on Tuesday, it’s too late to give the Test team a go together in that one. He will be going in a little blind in that sense.”
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