Ex-Wallaby: Lions have lost plot
RUGBY UNION: The British and Irish Lions' controversial decision to axe veteran Irishman Brian O'Driscoll for tonight's game for the ages against Australia has left the tourists without a truly inspirational figure.
So says Coast-based former Australia and Queensland halfback Brett Johnstone.
He believes Wallabies captain James Horwill's galvanising leadership may prove the difference in the game-three decider at Sydney's ANZ Stadium, and questions the judiciousness of Lions coach Warren Gatland's decision to wield the axe.
O'Driscoll, the sole survivor from the Lions' 2001 tour of Australia, and five other players were dropped following the Wallabies' 16-15 second Test win in Melbourne last Saturday.
O'Driscoll was expected to replace injured Lions skipper Sam Warburton for the third Test, but that job went to lock Alun Wyn Jones.
Johnstone said: "In those crunch moments, you look for someone to provide a bit of assurance and clear thinking. I don't know who's going to give them that.
"I don't think I would have made the changes he's (Gatland) made.
"It's such a big game. I'd be looking for a bit of continuity."
The leadership vacuum Johnstone believes the tourists must overcome to triumph is in his eyes contrasted by the Horwill effect.
Horwill faced missing the match through suspension, but earlier this week was cleared to play following a contentious second hearing into an alleged stamping incident from game one.
While Johnstone said the towering lock's contribution solely as a player was under estimated, his impact as a leader was not.
He inspired teammates "to grow another leg".
"He's one of those players who doesn't get a lot of accolades in general play, but you notice him when he's not there," Johnstone said. "He's definitely got a presence with regards to leadership."
Johnstone, who played 71 games for the Reds and was capped against Tonga in 1993, believes the Wallabies have the backline firepower to cause the Lions problems - provided they hold their own in the forwards.
WHILE Johnstone would not have chosen James O'Connor as Australia's No.10 at the start of the series, he said the Wallabies should give the utility back the time to "evolve" into a potent five-eighth.
"We're not in a position to change and change," he said. "The team can build around him the next couple of years - not just this series."
AUSTRALIA: 15. K Beale; 14. I Folau; 13. A Ashley-Cooper; 12. C Leali'ifano; 11. J Tomane; 10. J O'Connor; 9. W Genia; 8. W Palu ; 7. G Smith; 6. B Mowen; 5. J Horwill (c); 4. K Douglas; 3. B Alexander; 2. S Moore; 1. B Robinson. Replacements: 16. S Fainga'a; 17. J Slipper; 18. S Kepu; 19. R Simmons; 20. B McCalman; 21. M Hooper; 22. N Phipps; 23. J Mogg.
BRITISH AND IRISH LIONS: 15. L Halfpenny; 14. T Bowe; 13. J Davies; 12. J Roberts; 11. G North; 10. J Sexton, 9. M Phillips; 8. A Corbisiero; 7. R Hibbard; 6. A Jones; 5. A W Jones (c); 4. G Parling; 3. D Lydiate; 2. S O'Brien; 1. Toby Faletau. Replacements: 16. T Youngs; 17. M Vunipola; 18. D Cole; 19. R Gray; 20. J Tipuric; 21. C Murray; 22. O Farrell; 23. M Tuilagi.