British and Irish Lions: The midweek team have already suffered two losses on this tour to the Blues and Highlanders, but a convincing 34-6 victory over an under-strength Chiefs in Waikato saw the dirt-trackers get back to winning ways. With the Test squad suffering a 15-point reverse in Auckland, this matchday squad will be desperate to get the tour back to winning ways against a potent Hurricanes outfit.
Hurricanes: The Hurricanes find themselves second in the Super Rugby New Zealand conference on 54 points, with 11 wins from 14 games. They have 10 bonus points and a points difference of +315, more than any other side in the competition, and their last three last games have seen away wins over the Bulls and Force, and a three-point reverse to the Chiefs at home.
Warren Gatland has said his Lions players can put their hand up for Test selection with a strong showing at the Westpac Stadium, and they’re 8/9 with 888Sport to be leading after 20 minutes. The ground is the same venue for the second Test, so the whole squad will be able to get familiar with their surroundings four days out from the must-win second Test to keep the series alive. The clash in Wellington could represent the final game of the tour for some Lions players, so it’s their last chance to push for a Test spot after being overlooked for Eden Park on Saturday. After captaining the Lions to victory over the Chiefs, hooker Best will be one of those players looking to impress, and the Ulsterman is 9/2 to lead the side to victory by 11-20 points.
Lock George Kruis has been named amongst the Lions replacements - the only player from the first Test to back up against the Hurricanes – suggesting the Saracen won’t feature in the second Test. Maro Itoje is now expected to be unleashed from the start alongside Alun-Wyn Jones in the engine room this weekend, with Courtney Lawes pushing hard for a bench role. The Lions are 17/10 to win both halves, and the Northampton Saint will look for an eye-catching performance in the engine room of the pack.
George North lines up for the visitors on the left wing and the Welshman – 14/1 to be the game’s first try-scorer - will have a point to prove after being deemed surplus to requirements for the first Test. The Lions are 4/5 odds on to be leading at half-time, and CJ Stander, Jack Nowell and Jonathan Joseph could also put themselves into contention for the matchday Test squad with strong showings. A back is 4/11 to score the first try, and the tourists’ speedsters will look to show their finishing capabilities after the Lions squandered a number of try-scoring opportunities at Eden Park.
The Hurricanes are one of the strongest Super Rugby franchises, and are 10/11 to score over 22.5 points. Vaea Fifita, Julian Savea, Jordie Barrett and Ngani Laumpae have been released by the All Blacks for this clash, and Savea will be eager to show the national selectors what he can do after losing his All Black place to Rieko Ioane. The winger is 25/1 to score a sensational hat-trick, and the Wellington-based side are 9/2 to win both halves.
The hosts have plenty of Test experience to call on as they look to consign the Lions to their fourth defeat in eight games, and Nehe Milner-Skudder will relish the occasion, as will replacement Cory Jane – 10/1 to be the game’s last tryscorer from the bench. The home side have a potent, threatening backline, and although they can’t call on the services of Ben Smith, TJ Perenara and Beauden Barrett, they’ll provide this midweek outfit with a real test. Given the quality at their disposal, they could well provide the tourists with another disastrous defeat days before the second Test, but the Lions must come together and find a way to win. From their perspective, they can ill-afford another damaging defeat at this stage of the tour.
- Sports.net’s Top Tip: British and Irish Lions to win by 13 points – 11/4
*Please note, odds may fluctuate.