Belfast Telegraph

Malcolm O'Kelly insists line-out is the key to success

By Conor George

The Lions need to come up with a plan to make their line-out relevant if they are to win the Series, according to former tourist and Ireland international Malcolm O'Kelly.

O'Kelly, a line-out specialist with Leinster, Ireland and the Lions, suggested the absence of Paul O'Connell because of injury has damaged the Lions in this department and that a major improvement is needed if they are to win the third Test.

"Paul O'Connell would have had the line-out set up to suit himself and now the other second-rows have to work around that" he said. Finding the right balance to suit the different personnel is challenging.

"Different teams have their own line-out system. Leinster, for example, have had the same line-out for the last four or five years, ever since Leo (Cullen) came back.

"Leicester have a very specific line-out as do Wales, Ireland and England. When you go into a Lions' camp you don't want to give away your own line-out so you have to dream up new calls and new plays and put it all together very quickly.

"The Wallabies have had years of building up their line-out. It is so much easier for them because of continuity ... that is a definite advantage," he added.

Instead of being a weapon for the Lions to secure quick attacking ball for their backs, the line-out has almost become a liability.

More typical of what has been happening the Lions line-out, however, was the manner in which they ruined a huge opportunity of snatching a late win last Saturday.

A line-out inside the Australian 22 in the dying minutes offered the Lions a heaven-sent opportunity of clinching the game. Instead the ball was thrown long and possession was turned over. It was the winning and losing of the game.

"One of the issues is that the calling of the line-out is being done when the players are in the line-out," suggested O'Kelly.

"This is giving the Australians time to get their defence sorted. If you call what line-out you are going to work as you approach and then hit it quickly you cut down the time the defence has to match you.

"That has not been happening so with the middle and the tail squeezed the Australians have been happy to offer the front."

The Lions touring party of 2001 to Australia – of which O'Kelly was a member – found themselves in exactly the same position as the current tour as they faced into the third Test with the series level. He suggested, however, there were significant differences in the standing of both groups. Twelve years ago the Lions arrived at this juncture a team battered and bruised and, recalled O'Kelly, utterly spent.

"The win in the second Test was such a momentum turner. The Australian win came out of nowhere and guys were empty when it came to the third Test.

"The scenario is different this time around I believe. There wasn't a split in the squads like there was back in 2001.

"The dirt-trackers were isolated back then and we were left to do our own thing. In a way it felt like we were on a different Tour.

"There's a more 'together' feel to this squad and this Tour. The Lions are absolutely in with a strong chance this time ... either side could win," added O'Kelly.

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