It has been a tough week for the British & Irish Lions. Victories in their two matches haven’t disguised the impact that injuries have had on their team. Richard O’Hagan takes a look at this, plus some other flaws which may have an impact upon your rugby betting.
On one level, it has been a good week for the Lions. They came through a hard match against Queensland Reds with their unbeaten record intact, and then enjoyed a more comfortable stroll in the sun against the Combined Country side. Oh, and prop Cian Healey was cleared of a biting charge, meaning that he escaped a ban that would otherwise have ruled him out of the tour.
Looking at things from a different perspective, though, it has been a horrible week. Healy escaped a ban, but went home anyway with an ankle ligament injury. Joining him on the plane home was Gethin Jenkins, the other experienced loose-head prop in the party, who didn’t play a single minute after an old calf injury reoccurred. That leaves the Lions facing the first Test with a choice of Mako Vunipola (who only made his international debut nine months ago), Alex Corbisiero (as injury-prone as Jenkins and not even ranked number two behind Vunipola in England) or Ryan Grant (who should’ve been in the original party but who Warren Gatland clearly thinks is, at best, the 6th best loose-head in Britain). This is the kind of luck that can derail an entire tour.
Adding to those woes is the wing situation following the Reds game. The Lions went into that game with what was probably their first choice wing combination, with Alex Cuthbert on the left and Tommy Bowe on the right. Then Bowe broke his hand - and it still wasn’t the worst of the Lions’ problems. Irish wing Simon Zebo has been added to the tour party as cover for Bowe, but the Bowe still could play in the final Test so has remained on tour. The bigger problem is Cuthbert, whose defensive frailties were exposed by Queensland in a way that no international side has managed to do so far. Between defensive errors and handling errors, Cuthbert may have played his way out of a starting role in the first Test.
Then there is the fly half problem. One of the glaring things about the original 37 man party was that whilst Gatland had gone for double coverage in every single position, he had only chosen two men to wear the 10 shirt - Jonny Sexton and Owen Farrell. Not only did this mean that they would both have to play every game, but if one got hurt there would be a problem. So when they both got hurt against Queensland, there became a real problem. Scotland full-back Stuart Hogg had to play stand-off against the Combined Country XV, but the issue goes deeper than that. Not only is there no back-up for Sexton and Farrell on tour, there are few obvious replacements either. Rhys Priestland of Wales and Jonny Wilkinson of England are injured, Ireland’s Ronan O’Gara has retired, Scotland themselves can’t choose between Ruaridh Jackson and Duncan Weir and Paddy Jackson of Ireland and Freddie Burns of England have fewer than half-a-dozen caps between them. That just leaves Dan Biggar, the one member of Wales’ Grand Slam Six Nations team that Gatland didn’t want to pick, or the unpredictable James Hook, as the only options. In both cases, you suspect that Gatland would rather play Hogg.
What does all of this mean for your sports picks? Well, first of all, it changes the potential make-up of the starting side in the first Test. BetVictor are offering betting odds of 14/1 on two Scotsmen starting and now all four of those on tour are in the mix thanks to these injuries.
It also means that an Australian series win looks ever more enticing, and a 2-1 win is now 3/1 with Bet365. And whilst Cuthbert is still the heavy favorite to be top tryscorer on this tour, the likes of Brian O’Driscoll at 5/1 with Paddy Power and George North at 6/1 with Ladbrokes suddenly looks much more attractive options for our sports picks.