Just how much the British and Irish Lions will learn from Tuesday’s clash against a combined NSW-Queensland Country XV at Hunter Stadium is debatable, but no one is in any doubt about the result.
The Lions will win, and win big. In fact, if they don’t rack up a cricket score, something is very wrong.
Up against a team traditionally made up of players from outside of Australia’s major cities, the tourists have an opportunity to test of few combinations, bolster their confidence and add a bit of momentum to their tour.
There is also the very real possibility of picking up more injuries, tiring out a squad already under massive pressure and giving the Wallabies a free look-see at the shape the Lions are taking in match formation.
Indeed, the Aussies keeping a sneaky eye on what the Lions are up to has been a topic for unexpected headlines this week.
The Australian media revealed on Monday that on the last Lions tour 12 years ago, the Wallabies secretly extracted extra intelligence on the tourists’ strategies and calls.
During the 2001 tour, Wallabies coach Rod Macqueen used Scott Johnson, now Scotland’s director of rugby, as a ball boy for early tour matches where Johnson secretly accrued data on the Lions’ line-out calls.
Macqueen admitted Johnson’s information helped Australia win a key moment in the deciding third Test when debutant lock Justin Harrison stole a pivotal line-out in the dying minutes to ensure a maiden series victory.
Wallabies coach Robbie Deans has accused the Lions of creating a “sideshow” over apparent spying claims, while counterpart Warren Gatland has denied there is paranoia among the tourists over them being watched in training.
Gatland revealed his fitness staff had ejected a spectator from a training session while in Perth for last week’s opening Australian match against the Western Force.
The Lions coach said the man, who was using a video camera, was “chased down” by two of the team’s staffers and forced to delete footage after filming a closed training session.
But Gatland later clarified that the Perth intruder was a random spectator and that he had no problem with Wallabies analysts filming their tour matches.
“They are perfectly entitled to do that.
“I said we threw some punter out of training that was videoing us, that was all. I don’t get paranoid about people watching trainings and videoing.”
“We know that last week the Australian side were up there videoing us from behind the pitch and doing individual videos on the players.
“We’ve got a completely new set of calls that we’ll introduce at some stage if they have been listening to us. We don’t get too paranoid about that.”
But Deans dismissed the Lions’ claims in the opening salvo of mind games between the two teams on the tour.
“They create their own stories,” the Wallaby coach told reporters.
“It’s just a sideshow really. What the motivation is, you would have to ask Warren. I don’t want to fuel the fire. We don’t have a security officer, the Lions do. Maybe that’s an indication.”
“We flatly deny that anyone connected to the Wallabies has been involved in filming or watching the Lions at training,” added a Wallabies spokesman.
Deans was dismissive when asked about the spying claims on Sunday ahead of the June 22 opening Test in Brisbane.
“No, we don’t need to. It’s obviously something high on their minds. They are creating their own stories,” he said.
Asked if the system of rival teams having training sessions closed to the media and the public only enhances an opposition’s temptation to spy, Deans said: “To a large extent you presume that people are watching. But obviously you don’t open the gates.”
Of course just how much knowledge either side will gain on Tuesday is questionable. No one seriously believes Stuart Hogg will play fly-half come Test time. Ditto for Sean Maitland at full-back. No one seriously expects the Lions front row to be given a working over either.
But there are a few area to which we should give particular attention, notably how Brian O’Driscoll and Jamie Roberts combine in midfield or how Richie Gray holds up as his continues his return from injury.
Players to watch:
For Combined Country: Rebels fly-half Angus Roberts is one of a handful of players with Super Rugby experience. He’ll no doubt be playing behind a retreating pack. Will he look to swing it wide or kick his way out of trouble?
For British and Irish Lions: Having just climbed off a number of planes after a round-the-world journey Alex Corbisiero has been thrown straight into the mix and will want to push his way up the selection hierarchy. Likewise, with Tommy Bowe heading home, Alex Cuthbert has a great chance to make a claim for Test starting berth.
2001: Lions beat NSW Country Districts 46-3, Coffs Harbour
1989: Lions beat New South Wales Country 72-13, Sydney
1966: Lions beat New South Wales Country 6-3, Sydney
1959: Lions beat New South Wales Country, 27-14, Sydney
1950: Lions beat New South Wales Country 47-3, Sydney
Prediction: No mystery here. The Lions by at least 50 points
Combined Country: 15 Nathan Trist, 14 Alex Gibbon, 13 Lewie Catt, 12 Tareta-Junior Siakisini, 11 Tom Cox, 10 Angus Roberts, 9 Michael Snowden, 8 Tim Davidson (c), 7 Jarrad Butler, 6 Richard Stanford, 5 Blake Enever, 4 Phoenix Battye, 3 Tim Metcher, 2 Josh Mann-Rae, 1 Haydn Hirsimaki.
Replacements: 16 Tom Kearney, 17 Dylan Evans, 18 Rikki Abraham, 19 Rory Arnold, 20 Trent Dyer, 21 Adam McCormack, 22 Shaun McCarthy, 23 Dale Ahwang.
Lions: 15 Sean Maitland, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Brian O’Driscoll (c), 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 George North, 10 Stuart Hogg, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jami Heaslip, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Sean O’Brien, 5 Ian Evans, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Alex Corbisiero.
Replacements: 16 Rory Best, 17 Ryan Grant, 18 Matt Stevens, 19 Alun Wyn Jones, 20 Toby Faletau, 21 Mike Phillips, 22 Jonathan Davies, 23 Leigh Halfpenny.
Date: Tuesday, June 11
Kick-off: 19:30 local (10:30 BST, 09:30 GMT)
Venue: Hunter Stadium, Newcastle
Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)