THE British and Irish Lions have it all to do if they are to square the three-match match series with New Zealand in Wellington this weekend. Rugby Union expert Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) shares his best bets for the 2nd Test on Saturday morning.
New Zealand v British & Irish Lions | Saturday 08:35 | Sky Sports
Only twice before – in 1899 and 1989 – have the British & Irish Lions won a Test series from one match down and with the All Blacks just 1/25 (Paddy Power) to clinch the 2017 series, bookmakers are giving the tourists little hope of turning the tables this time around.
Pundits suggest the Lions will need to produce the performance of their lives with a minor miracle required to seal only a second series win against New Zealand in 12 attempts. And the visitors arrive in Wellington with unhappy memories of the Westpac Stadium.
On the Lions’ last trip to the “Cake Tin” under Sir Clive Woodward’s watch in 2005, the tourists were shredded 48-18 in 2005 on their way to a 3-0 whitewash. And you have to go back to 1993 for the Lions’ last taste of victory on Kiwi soil.
The Lions’ final midweek match of the tour ended in a gripping 31-31 draw against Super Rugby champions the Hurricanes but attention should be focussed on the first Test from Auckland.
The tourists suffered a 30-15 loss – their heaviest Test defeat in 12 years – which could have been worse but for Rhys Webb’s late consolation try. But there were plenty of positives to take from Eden Park.
Warren Gatland’s group looked threatening with the ball in hand, managing to score one of the great Lions tries of all-time, and the likes of Liam Williams and Johnathan Davies causing the All Blacks problems. In fact, the Lions (15) made the most clean breaks in an away game against New Zealand since 2012.
The Kiwis have conceded 155 clean breaks in their 30 home games since 2012 – 47 (30%) of those were made by either Wales or the Lions across just four Tests. The tourists produced several moments of brilliance, particularly either side of the break, genuinely rocking the world champions with their running rugby.
However, despite making plenty of positive inroads with ball in hand, the Lions lacked the clinical touch of their hosts. Failure to dot down from promising positions, coupled with brainless concessions of penalties and losing the psychical confrontation up front, were key factors when assessing the final score.
Lions Team News
Gatland’s never shied away from making a big call and his decision to bring Johnny Sexton into fly-half and moving Owen Farrell to 12, whilst drooping Ben Te’o to the bench, has raised plenty of eyebrows.
The dual playmaker role has worked a treat for England under Eddie Jones but the high-class pair have played just 76 minutes together on tour – and just 23 minutes alongside Davies at outside centre. If it fails, it will be viewed as a desperate play from the Lions boss.
Farrell never shirks a defensive challenge but the Saracens star faces a huge task in trying to contain Sonny-Bill Williams, a role Te’o performed with aplomb before being hauled off last weekend.
Gatland’s intention is to add extra attacking options and give the Lions more of a cutting edge when in possession. It also offers the Lions more distribution outlets and broadens the tactical kicking options, an approach that befuddled the All Blacks during their defeat to Ireland back in November.
Elsewhere, skipper Peter O’Mahony has dropped out of the squad altogether to accommodate tour captain Sam Warburton. The Lions desperately require breakdown expertise but arguably a bigger call has been to persist with Alun Wyn Jones in the second row.
Maro Itoje’s inclusion alongside Jones is no surprise and he will be a key figure in attempting to deprive Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock of lineout ball. But Gatland’s dropped two of the Lions’ best lineout operators in O’Mahony and George Kruis; a possible error of judgement?
All Black Form
The double world champions have suffered just three losses in 55 Test matches, boast a W23-D0-L1 return in their last 24 encounters at any venue and have claimed 38 successive victories on home soil where only five sides have gotten to within single figures of the Kiwis.
Head coach Steve Hansen has never tasted defeat at home in 31 games since taking the reins six years ago. His team have outscored opponents by an average 35-13 in New Zealand and in their last 11 Tests in front of their adoring home supporters the All Blacks have ran in an incredible 65 tries.
The All Blacks were last beaten in Wellington back in 2003, when England edged a tight contest 15-13, and the hosts appear primed to put in another flawless performance.
All Black Team News
The Lions were caught a little off-guard by New Zealand’s direct play off Aaron Smith last week but Steve Hansen may revert to type this time around, utilising the supreme skills at his disposal and go for the jugular with a more enterprising attacking display.
All three of the All Black tries in the first Test came from first-phase ball and although the Lions’ scramble defence held out well, the reshuffle in the tourists’ back division should give the Kiwis encouragement.
The Lions made 162 tackles to the All Blacks’ 83 and it remains to be seen whether that kind of effort can be sustained on top of a more direct attacking approach. Expect to see Williams’ magical offloading game come to the fore; the Lions restricted the rugby league convert to just two in Auckland.
New Zealand’s only changes to their XV are enforced. Anton Lienart-Brown replaces the injured Ryan Crotty and Waisake Naholo comes in on the wing with Israel Dagg moving to full-back to cover Ben Smith’s absence. Neither selection should greatly hinder the hosts’ offensive ability.
Smith’s unavailability is a blow. The vice captain is the best full-back on the planet but Dagg’s a World Cup-winning 15 that boast the broken-field attacking wizardry, as well as the security of Smith under the high ball, to alleviate any fears in the Kiwi dressing room.
The Betting Angles
New Zealand went off as 10-point favourites in Auckland and comfortably covered the spread. The home side now arrive in Wellington with a -13 point handicap hurdle but the Men In Black have cleared that line in 13 of their 16 Test matches since World Cup glory in 2015, and in 11 consecutive home fixtures.
A wet and windy forecast for Wellington could hamper enterprising play – early forecast is for rain throughout the day on Saturday with some heavy outbreaks by the evening, and winds gusting up to 30mph. Despite potential detrimental conditions, I’m happy to follow familiar punting paths here.
As mentioned last week, Gatland recognises that to beat the All Blacks you simply must cross the whitewash and score five-pointers. The Kiwis’ four losses since 2012 saw their opponents’ notch no fewer than three tries and a minimum of 27 points in victory.
And to follow another familiar theme, New Zealand’s second-half dominance once again paid off during the first Test. Sir Clive Woodward’s research revealed that the All Blacks have led by more than seven points after 50 minutes in only 15/29 (52%) of home Tests against tier one side since 2012.
The final 20 minutes of the aforementioned sample saw the Kiwis outscore their opposition 289-98 – 10-3 on average. In fact, New Zealand have out-stripped their opposition 240-31 – 27-4 on average – during the second-halves of their last nine home matches since the World Cup, conceding only three tries.
Last weekend the hosts were ahead by 13-8 at the 50-minute mark before pulling clear and so the obvious play is to once more back the All Blacks to beat the -7 second-half handicap at 1/1 (Betfair).
Punters should also consider backing the Lions with a +7 first-half handicap start (10/11 Bet365). Ten of the All Blacks’ last 13 matches – including the first Test – have had their opponents within nine points at the interval.
The Kiwis have scored more than 29 points in each of their last 11 home games and are 20/21 (Betfair) to score Over 27.5 Points this time around with wingers Rieko Ioane (6/4 Betway) and Waisake Naholo (6/4 BetVictor) leading the Anytime Tryscorer markets.
Ioane notched two tries in a dazzling first Test start for the All Blacks last weekend with the 20 year-old also displaying exceptional pace and finishing skills when crossing the whitewash for the Blues against the Lions earlier in the tour.
Meanwhile, Naholo beats a defender on average every 14.6 minutes for New Zealand – a hugely impressive figure compared to his positional rivals – and starred in last summer’s series against Wales, notching three tries, making nine clean breaks and beating 14 defenders. Terrifying statistics.
The duo can be backed at 3/1 (Ladbrokes) to both dot down and that’s generous enough to add to the artillery for Saturday morning.
New Zealand v British & Irish Lions – British & Irish Lions +7 first-half handicap (10/11 Bet365)
New Zealand v British & Irish Lions – New Zealand –7 second-half handicap (1/1 Betfair)
New Zealand v British & Irish Lions – New Zealand to score Over 27.5 Points (20/21 Betfair)
New Zealand v British & Irish Lions – Rieko Ioane and Waisake Naholo both to score a try (3/1 Ladbrokes)
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