Lions pack look ready to pounce against the Wallabies

FOR Andy Titterrell, the British Lions side that takes to the field in the vociferous confines of Suncorp Stadium today is as near to perfection as possible.

George North

The former Leeds Carnegie captain, who toured New Zealand with the Lions in 2005, believes Warren Gatland’s team can get in the crucial first blow of the highly-anticipated series due to the balance he has created.

While there are so many doubts over the make-up of Australia’s squad, Titterrell feels the tourists are perfectly primed to prosper in Brisbane.

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“It is a great Test side,” said the 32-year-old, who moved to Headingley in 2009.

“Obviously, Jamie Roberts has missed out through injury and that’s a shame as he is a quality centre.

“I think Mako Vunipola is unlucky not starting at prop but he can make an impact off the bench and Alex Corbisiero is a great player himself.

“The back-row is where the real strength is considering both Justin Tipuric and Sean O’Brien can’t even get in but that’s what selection does when you have such quality.

“It’s tough (deciding who will win) but I think the Lions have the power up front and ball-playing forwards, too, in Sam Warburton, James Heaslip and Tom Croft. That back-row really gels together.

“The backs have power and pace. The centre pairing of Brian O’Driscoll and Jonathan Davies is real interesting. It’ll be good to see how Davies goes at 12 and that is probably the only position I’d change but, of course, Roberts is injured.

“Roberts can be predictable in the way he plays but he does it so well and gets over the gainline time after time.

“Robinson and O’Driscoll are both 13s but with Jonathan Sexton at 10 – and having the relationship he does with O’Driscoll through Ireland – I think it will still work while the Lions have probably the best wingers around.

“George North and Alex Cuthbert are both big, strong runners while Leigh Halfpenny is a rock at full-back.

“The Lions will be able to mix things up and won’t just have a Plan A. They will drive and play a forward-orientated game but get it out to the backs too.

“The question mark over Australia is where can they get parity? They are not really massive up front and always seem to struggle in the scrum but it’s a Test against the Lions and if they can hold that set-piece they do have the backs to play.

“It’s going to be a really intriguing contest.”

The Lions have won all seven Tests they have played in the Queensland capital stretching back to 1899, the last being 2001 when O’Driscoll’s iconic try proved the highlight.

Then, of course, there was the infamous ‘Battle of Ballymore’ 12 years before that when the tourists’ brutal tactics won through.

Yet, ironically, Australia actually love stepping out there, too, having prospered in 14 of their last 16 Tests in Brisbane.

London Welsh hooker Titterrell, who made his England debut in Auckland nine years ago and played 40 times for Leeds before leaving at the end of the 2011-12 season, added: “The tour itself has gone well.

“You could see it creak on Tuesday when they lost against the Brumbies but when you’re pulling in players at the last minute like Shane Williams, who have only had a few days to get over the travelling, that can happen.

“Warren Gatland probably wanted to have a look at other players and give guys a rest rather than play from the bench.

“But it’s just one game. It would have been great to go through unbeaten to the first Test but that’s sport for you and I don’t think it matters when it comes to Australia on Saturday.”

As a hooker himself, Titterrell is hugely impressed with the rapid development of Tom Youngs, who has remarkably transformed himself from a centre loaned out to the Championship just four years ago to a fully-fledged Test No 2.

“He was playing centre for Nottingham not long ago but he got his chance in this role at Leicester and now he’s won the league, earned Premiership player of the year, been capped for England and got the starting hooker spot in a Lions Test against the Wallabies,” he said.

“It just shows what dedication and determination can do.

“You hear a lot about flankers moving to hooker but backs going into the forwards is something different entirely.

“It was a gamble – the guy’s career was on the line – but he’s got better and better and it’s paid off. He’s done remarkably well and it’s fantastic”

On his own Lions experience, the former England international admits it was “tremendous” despite being on the end of a 3-0 whitewash by the All Blacks which saw coach Clive Woodward heavily lambasted in 2005.

“We didn’t want for anything,” recalled Titterrell, who played in the midweek side against Taranaki, Southland and Manawatu.

“We had the best squad, the best coaching staff and a fantastic environment in which to play but we were just unlucky in that we lost three Tests to the best team in the world at that time.

“It was very difficult but equally so definitely a highlight of my career and something I will always remember and cherish.

“It doesn’t come along all the time; some people like O’Driscoll can go on three or four tours but I was very privileged to play that one. It was very special.”