British and Irish Lions: The Lions have won two and lost two of their four warm-up games so far, opening their account with a hard-fought 13-7 victory over the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians before a disappointing 22-16 loss to the Blues. They registered their second victory with a 12-3 scalp of the Crusaders before another setback, this time a 23-22 reverse to the Highlanders in Dunedin. Their performances have been inconsistent so far, although the two losses were suffered by the under-strength midweek team.
Maori All Blacks: Over the past few years, the Maori All Blacks have an impressive record against international sides. They beat the United States 54-7 in Chicago in 2016, and defeated Fiji 27-26 in 2015. They also beat the Harlequins 26-10 last November, but lost 34-17 to the New Zealand Barbarians in 2015. Previous results will go out the window for this one-off game, and they possess more than enough quality in their ranks to make a real game of it in Rotorua.
With just two warm-up games to go for the Lions until the first Test, Gatland looks set to name his strongest possible matchday squad to take on the Maori. The Lions are 4/6 to score the game’s first try, and it’ll be a dress rehearsal for his probable Test XV one week out from the All Blacks in Auckland, bar a couple of positions still up for debate. The midweek team will take to the field again on Tuesday against the Chiefs, giving this XV a final chance to work on their Test combinations this Saturday ahead of New Zealand at Eden Park. They’re 6/1 to put in an impressive performance and win by 11-15 points.
Expect Peter O’Mahony and Sean O’Brien to line up in the Lions back-row alongside Toby Faletau, with Ross Moriarity set to be unleashed from the bench. George Kruis and Maro Itoje should form an all-English lock combination behind a probable front row of Mako Vunipola, Jamie George and Tadhg Furlong. The visitors are 8/15 to register their third victory against the Maori, and behind the scrum, Conor Murray will wear the scrum-half jersey with either Jonny Sexton and Owen Farrell combining at 10-12, or one of them getting the nod at fly-half. Depending which way Gatland goes, Ben T’eo and Jonathan Davies could get the chance to continue their impressive centre partnership. In the back-three, expect to see George North take his place on the wing with two of three starting from Anthony Watson, Liam Williams and Leigh Halfpenny now Stuart Hogg has been ruled out of the rest of the tour through injury.
12 years on from their historic victory over Sir Clive Woodward’s 2005 Lions, there are three uncapped players in the Maori squad – Rob Thompson, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi and Bryn Hall. Captained by hooker Ash Dixon, the hosts are 11/10 to open the scoring, and 11/4 for Maori All Blacks/Maori All Blacks Half Time/Full Time betting odds. All Blacks Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Rieke Ioane have both been released for this game, and are expected to start for the hosts along with the likes of Leinster-bound James Lowe, Ihaia West, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Liam Messam and Damian McKenzie.
Colin Cooper’s side possess Test-quality personnel, and this game will be an emotive, symbolic representation of their Maori culture, heritage and tradition. However, the Lions XV looks like being a similar outfit to the one that ended the Crusaders’ 14-match unbeaten run and, with the tourists naming their strongest team, they should return to winning ways and register their third win in five games.
- Sports.net’s Top Tip: British and Irish Lions to win by 1-10 points – 11/5
*Please note, odds may fluctuate.