Brisbane battles

Sky Sports rugby union writer Tony Curtis looks at where Saturday's first Test in Brisbane could be won and lost.

By Tony Curtis - Follow me on Twitter @SkysportsTC.   Last Updated: 20/06/13 8:00pm

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The highly-anticipated Test series between British and Irish Lions and Australia gets underway on Saturday at the Suncorp Stadium.

It will be the first time the Lions have faced the Wallabies since the 2-1 series loss in 2001 - with Australia recovering from losing the opening match to win the second and third Tests.

The match will be the 21st meeting between the two rivals, with the Lions having racked up 15 victories. Australia have won five, including the first ever encounter back in 1899.

And ahead of the clash in Brisbane, we look at the key battles where the match could be won and lost.

Ben Alexander v Alex Corbisiero

Ben Alexander: A savvy operator in the scrum

The 28-year-old Alexander has been the cornerstone of the Australia pack since making his debut in 2008. Alexander's international debut against France came before he had even started a Super Rugby game. He has gone on to win 48 caps and although he better known for his play in the loose, Alexander is also a savvy operator in the set-piece. England's Joe Marler was put through the wringer by Alexander in November with the Brumbies front row able to dominate the hit.

Alex Corbisiero: Brought in for front-row battle

While Alexander might have dominated Marler in November, it is highly unlikely he would have had anywhere near the success against Corbisiero. The Northampton-born loosehead is powerhouse at the set-piece and he has been brought straight into the Lions XV for that reason. Although Corbisiero was originally omitted from the squad that was more to do with the fact his 2012/13 season had been ruined by injury. He did play for the England back in December and impressed during the win over New Zealand.

Michael Hooper v Sam Warburton

Michael Hooper: A menace at the breakdown

The battle at the breakdown could be crucial and Australia will be looking to Hooper to give them the edge. The 21-year-old has proved he is more than just a stand-in for David Pocock, with Hooper a class operator in his own right. He is a brilliant scavenger of the ball, but he doesn't just look to pilfer possession and is able to disrupt play at the breakdown too. Hooper has a terrific engine on him, pace around the park and his work-rate and willingness to carry makes him a real threat for the Lions.

Sam Warburton: The skipper is a world-class openside on his day

Warburton can perhaps count himself lucky to be in the side after impressive performances on the tour from Sean O'Brien and Justin Tipuric - however the tour captain is up there with the leading opensides in world rugby. He looked rusty on his return from injury however he showed he was close to being back to his best in the 47-17 rout against the Waratahs. He is a disruptive force at the breakdown, while he gets through a tremendous workload - it might not all be seen but it is effective.

Will Genia v Mike Phillips

Will Genia: Arguably the best No 9 in the world

In Genia, Australia possess arguably the world's leading No 9. He is a master craftsman for the scrum-half arts - with a great pass, an eye for the gap, electric pace and a faultless kicking game. He is also a nuggerty character in defence who keeps the pressure on his opposite number for the full 80 minutes. At just 5ft 8in and 13st Genia might be diminutive in size but he is big stature. He punches way above is weight in the tackle while the Reds ace is one of the key leaders on the pitch for the Wallabies.

Mike Phillips: A real physical threat in attack ans defence

Genia will certainly be tested physically by the challenge of Phillips, who has a significant height and weight advantage (6ft 3in and 16.5st) over the Wallabies No 9. Phillips defends around the breakdown like an extra flanker and gets through more than his fair share of tackles. He brings an aggressive, combative edge to the game, while the 30-year-old is also tough to stop in full flow. Crucially for the Lions, Phillips is in form, having impressed during the Six Nations and in his tour appearances to date.

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