The role played by two hands stuck in the head after watching Wales grind out a 28-18 win against Scotland at Murrayfield at the weekend.
The first was the invisible one of British and Irish Lions Head Coach Warren Gatland, which the suspicious-minded might have detected in Wales’ decision to change a winning side and recall the man Gatland made captain of Wales and surely wants in form for his Lions, Sam Warbuton.
The second belonged to Warburton himself, a crafty left paw that upended Scottish No.7 Kelly Brown at a ruck in 54th minute, taking him out of the game with Wales attacking close to the Scottish line. It was blink-and-you-miss it stuff – and the referee did – and entirely deliberate.
Warburton is no angel, and nor would Gatland want him to be in a Lions jersey. He finished with man-of-the-match honours and a crucial win in the bag. As David Pocock departed the Lions stage, Warburton reasserted himself.
The Wallabies won’t be surprised in the slightest at the more streetwise elements of Warburton’s work. They complained bitterly in the Wales series last year that Pocock was being repeatedly interfered with off the ball.
Nor would they be strangers to Warburton’s obvious quality. There was a superb moment in the second half when promising Scottish fullback Stuart Hogg made a half break, only to be bent backwards by a front-on Warburton tackle. The Welshman then completed the job by getting back to his feet and winning the turnover.
It was not the first or last time his ability to compete on the ground stymied the Scottish attack.
There was a Lions performance, too, from Warburton’s teammate in No.15, Leigh Halfpenny. Within the first 10 minutes he had brilliantly won an aerial challenge with Hogg, yet again showing his fearlessness under the high ball. England’s Alex Goode has been assured in the custodian’s role but lacks Halfpenny’s attacking spark. There is another reason Halfpenny has so many fans. Even after three misses with his opening trio of kicks at goal, he banged over the fourth with aplomb. Even after a few setbacks, this is a player who wants the responsibility and pressure of shaping games.
That is a characteristic long associated with Brian O’Driscoll, and the Irish centre displayed it again in the final minutes of his side’s torrid 13-13 draw with France. Playing on one leg and with only half of his wits after a brutal collision with mammoth French replacement prop Vincent Debaty, it took some coaxing by the trainer for O’Driscoll to leave the field but even that was not the end of him. He re-appeared to lend a hand wherever he could, clearing from the base like a halfback and cleaning out like a loose forward. Robbie Deans, significantly, spoke of “passion” as prerequisite for his players last week and this is why. He knows full well what the likes of O’Driscoll will bring.
The Lions will also bring a name or two that were not on too many Australian radars before the Six Nations.
England’s 18-11 win against the Italians was flawed, but it marked another step in the progression of hooker Tom Youngs. He’s a fine player, this busy, stocky, tank-like No.2 and has a quick, accurate lineout throw that is tough to defend. At the other end of the form scale Chris Ashton is playing his way out of the squad. Don’t be surprised if one winger’s berth is handed instead to Sean Maitland, who was productive with every touch at the end of a deeply limited Scottish back line.British and Irish Lions team of the week
1. Mako Vunipola (England)2. Tom Youngs (England)3. Adam Jones (Wales)4. Alun Wyn-Jones (Wales)5. Donnacha Ryan (Ireland)6. Sean O’Brien (Ireland)7. Sam Warburton (Wales)8. Toby Faletau (Wales)9. Mike Phillips (Wales)10. Paddy Jackson (Ireland)11. Mike Brown (England)12. Manu Tuilagi (England)13. Brian O’Driscoll (Ireland)14. Sean Maitland (Scotland)15. Leigh Halfpenny (Wales)
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.