The Wallabies feel having the luxury of naming boom openside flanker Liam Gill on their reserves bench may prove the difference against the British and Irish Lions in the first Test in Brisbane on Saturday evening.
The home side will have a heavy on-ball presence at the breakdown for the 80 minutes, having included Gill on the bench behind fellow ‘scavenger’ and starting openside flanker Michael Hooper.
Gill and Hooper are experts at pilfering opposition ball at the breakdown, which was identified as a key battleground of the series as early as last September when Warren Gatland was appointed Lions coach.
Gatland spoke in awe of the Wallabies’ depth in the number seven jersey following his appointment, although surprisingly he failed to include a back-up openside flanker in his 23-man squad for the first Test.
Captain Sam Warburton is the only specialist seven named by Gatland, with Welsh blindside flanker Dan Lydiate set to provide the only back row cover from the bench.
Gatland chose not to include Ireland’s Sean O’Brien or Welshman Justin Tipuric, although it must be noted that the Lions pack have played hard on the ball throughout their Australian tour.
Hulking lock Paul O’Connell has been prominent in the tackle contest, with the Lions often looking for every opportunity to compete for the ball.
Wallabies coach Robbie Deans has the option of replacing Hooper with Gill during the second half, or playing them in tandem in a similar manner to how George Smith and Phil Waugh were sometimes employed by Eddie Jones.
Half-back Will Genia expects Gill to have a significant role on Saturday and his impact in the second half may prove to be the key to the Wallabies securing a victory.
“I think it’s a massive strength for us,” he said.
“We’ve got exceptional players like Michael Hooper, who will do a great job for us, but then to have the luxury of having someone like Liam Gill to come on when it gets loose.
“He’s (Gill) great at the breakdown, he’s great at pilfering and he’s just got a great all-round game.
“When the game does get loose, having a little of a sevens background means he’s got good ability to play with ball in hand and carry, and also get stuck into the tight stuff.”