Saturday sees the Second Test in the series between Australia and the British & Irish Lions. The Lions won the first encounter, but Richard O’Hagan thinks that the Wallabies will bounce back.
The British & Irish Lions squeaked a 23-21 victory over Australia in the opening Test when Wallaby replacement Kurtley Beale slipped when taking the kick at goal that would’ve won the game for the hosts. Of the two sides, though, it is the Australians who will be most confident going into this game. They had their back line decimated by injuries and yet were still in contention until the final moment. The Lions failed to take advantage of this - the Wallabies played the final 20 minutes with flanker Michael Hooper at centre - and were fortunate to escape.
The Lions will point to the fact that they had by far the worst of the refereeing. New Zealander Chris Pollock turned in arguably the worst display of international refereeing since Andre Watson had a stinker in the 2003 World Cup Final - which, given that the intervening period contains several dozen games reffed by Wayne Barnes, is something of an achievement. Not only was Pollock brutally keen to penalise the Lions at the breakdown, he failed to issue at least one yellow card for a clear Wallaby professional foul, missed full-back Berrick Barnes lifting George North in a maul and dumping him on his head (a mandatory sending off) and allowed the move which led to the opening Australia try to being when prop Benn Alexander dived into a ruck from the side to secure the ball, therefore committing three offences simultaneously.
However, all of this fails to take account of the fact that the Lions’ defence was flakey for both Australian tries, that they only managed to score one try against that depleted back line and that the management made some very bad substitutions which handed dominance in the pack to their hosts with almost half of the game still to go.
The real worry for the Lions is that short of improving their performance, there isn’t much they can do to change this side. Their two surprising choices for the first game, Alex Corbisiero and Alex Cuthbert, are likely to make way for Mako Vunipola and a fit-again Tommy Bowe. The former actually justified his selection and the Aussies won’t fear Vunipola in the scrum, but Cuthbert, despite his well taken try, never threatened otherwise and Bowe will be a much more potent weapon for the Lions.
What makes Australia a good value choice for your sports picks for their 7/4 (Sportingbet) odds, though, is the changes that they have to make to their team. With Barnes and Digby Ioane both ruled out by injury they will switch Israel Folau to his preferred position of full back and James O’Connor back from stand off to the wing. That will allow them to play Beale at stand off and to launch the three quarter line in a way that O’Connor was never able to do. With scrum half Will Genia playing at the top of his game, too, that creates a potent attacking force that the Lions will find very hard to repel, no matter that they are 8/13 (Paddy Power) favorites.
An Australian win would level the series at 1-1. That would leave the final match in Canberra to decide everything and at this stage you would have to fancy Australia to win that as well. Not only would they have all of the momentum with them, but it will be very hard for the Lions to replace any players who are injured in the coming game, due to the time and distance involved. With a 2-1 Australia victory priced at 5/1 across the board, now is the time to back that result as betting odds will only shorten as time goes on.