Visitors look North to stick to game plan

The British and Irish Lions will be boosted by the return of powerhouse winger George North for Saturday’s first Test.

The Welsh outside back had been sweating on a hamstring strain but Lions assistant coach Rob Howley revealed North had passed a fitness test on Wednesday morning and was ”fit to go, fit for selection” against the Wallabies.

Centre Jamie Roberts will miss the opening match of the three-Test series with a hamstring injury, winger Tommy Bowe (hand) is also unlikely while English centre Manu Tuilagi, who has a sore shoulder, was described as ”touch and go”.

North’s fitness is a relief to the Lions, who were aware by Wednesday the Wallabies planned on starting code-hopping debutant Israel Folau on the wing opposite experienced finisher Digby Ioane.

Howley conceded the Lions might have been forced to modify their game plan had they lost North as well as Roberts and Bowe.

”Possibly,” he said. ”I think that when we look at the centres, with Jamie included and [Jonathan Davies] and Brian O’Driscoll and Manu [Tuilagi], we’ve got the ability to play a gain-line game, [or] a passing game … it’s about changing up things and being clever and smart.”

The Lions also raised the issue of refereeing at the breakdown after the side’s disrupted effort against the Brumbies in Canberra on Tuesday.

Head coach Warren Gatland is meeting with Chris Pollock, who will referee the first Test, on Thursday, while Wallabies coach Robbie Deans met him on Wednesday.

Howley said the Lions would be emphasising the importance of making the tackler roll away from the tackled player, as well as the ”speed and quality” of ball the halfbacks take from the ruck.

It is a point that will not be lost on the Wallabies, whose game suffers immeasurably when starting No.9 Will Genia is put under pressure.

”Sometimes speed of ball can be affected by the opposition players influencing the space between the ball and the No.9, and it’s important that we get speed and quality of ball,” Howley said.

”That will be the key aspect, and I’m sure Australia will want that as well, that’s one of the key aspects of the Test series. It’s all very well having speed of ball but sometimes you then have to send extra support systems into that contact area to make sure that you get quality ball. As a result when you send support systems in, you end up with less numbers in attack and defence, which influences both defence and line speed. That’s what we want.”

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