Although Warren Gatland’s British and Irish Lions began their tour with a narrow victory over the gutsy Provincial Barbarians at Toll Stadium, the performance was disappointing from a Lions perspective. They squandered several try-scoring opportunities, failed to dominate the game and looked rather sluggish at times. No one expected the hosts to be pressing for the win in the last play of the game, and the men in red will be eager to impress at Eden Park – home to two of their three Tests against the All Blacks.
The Blues are unbeaten in five of their past six Super Rugby games, racking up four wins and one draw. Victories came against the Brumbies, Waratahs, Cheetahs and Reds, with a draw at home to the Chiefs and loss away to the Stormers. The Blues currently find themselves bottom of the New Zealand conference on 37 points, with seven victories from 14 games. They’ve picked up seven bonus points and boast a points difference of +61 so far in this season’s Super Rugby, however, form won’t have too much impact on Wednesday’s game, given it’s a one-off clash.
The Lions management stated from the very beginning that each member of the 41-man touring party would get a start in the first three games, hence the 15 changes to the XV. There are 11 Lions debutants in an exciting team – including captain Owens, 12/1 to be the Lions’ first tryscorer – and only Leigh Halfpenny, Dan Cole, Justin Tipuric and Rhys Webb have previously pulled on the famous red jersey. Debutant winger Jack Nowell is 17/1 to light up proceedings and score a hat-trick, and the Exeter Chiefs man will be one to watch given his recent impressive form.
Gatland has gone for familiarity with certain combinations in this matchday squad, unsurprising given the unrelenting nature and quick turnaround of games on this tour. The spine of this team compromises English locks Maro Itoje and Courtney Lawes, Welsh half-backs Webb and Dan Biggar, and the Irish centre partnership of Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne. You ca find the tourists at 10/11 for Lions/Lions in the Half Time/Full Time betting markets, and the all-Welsh half-back partnership will be key if this is to be the case.
The Ospreys duo will need to focus on game management – getting their team playing in the right areas of the pitch with territory and possession, something Greig Laidlaw and Johnny Sexton failed to do in Whangerei. A Lions victory by 1-5 points looks a good betting option if they’re able to stamp their authority on proceedings and they are 4/1 to do so. Alternatively, they’re 6/1 to win by a bigger margin of 11-15 points.
The Blues are the first of five Super Rugby teams the Lions will come up against and, captained by hooker James Parsons, they should provide the visitors with a stiff, confrontational examination of their credentials. Eight of the starting side are All Blacks, including Sonny Bill Williams, who is expected to start at inside centre despite doubts over his fitness, and is 25/1 to score the game’s first try if he shrugs off his injury concerns. Coached by Tana Umaga - the man who led New Zealand to a famous 3-0 series whitewash over the Lions back in 2005 – the home team are 6/4 to be leading after 20 minutes, and will be sensing a famous victory over their illustrious opposition.
This clash presents a chance for all Lions players to push for a Test jersey and, although it looks like being a close encounter on the north island, expect the visitors to considerably up their performance from the weekend and come away with a narrow victory.
- Sports.net’s Top Tip: British and Irish Lions to win by 1-10 points at 21/10