Lions to pounce
In his latest betting blog, Sky Sports presenter Alex Payne is backing the Lions to come roaring out the blocks.
By Alex Payne - Follow me on Twitter @Skysports_AlexP. Last Updated: June 27, 2013 2:43pm
It is almost time. After a year of speculation, six months of selection and five weeks of preparation, the history books are open for the 2013 British and Irish Lions.
I mentioned in my last blog that over the last few months I have found myself wavering behind both the Wallabies and the Lions as series victors, and the general consensus out here in Australia is that it is going to be very, very tight. In fact, things are so finely balanced that after watching Wallaby training on Thursday morning we left thinking that the men in green and gold looked extremely impressive - relaxed, fit and confident. The talk in the car was that, come the end, Robbie Deans men were just going to have too much, but on arriving at the Lions team announcement 30 minutes later the sight of Paul O'Connell, Jonathan Davies, Mike Phillips and Sam Warburton had us all backing the men in red again.
What is clear from the team announced by Warren Gatland is that the Lions do have everything they need to win this series, built on the foundations of vast international experience. Brian O'Driscoll and O'Connell led the 2005 and 2009 tours and provide a real focal point, not only for skipper Warburton but also those who haven't experienced a Lions Test before.
In terms of Saturday, the Lions have put a huge amount of emphasis on getting a result in Brisbane - the key being that it keeps them in the tour to the very end. Obviously, they are battle-hardened and have developed understanding in the combinations, only O'Driscoll and Davies in the centres have not featured together. In contrast the Wallabies haven't played since November, have included three debutants, James O'Connor starts only his second international at fly-half, while he and skipper James Horwill are appearing in their first Tests for 20 months.
Payne previews Australia v Lions
Head coach Deans has promised his side will hit the ground running, but recent history would suggest otherwise. Although missing some key men in both games, in 2011 Australia lost at home to Samoa while in 2012 they lost at home to Scotland. What is coming on Saturday is several levels above either of those, and it reconfirms that I think the Lions will have too much in the first Test.
So I'm going to back the Lions in a fast start (4/5 to win the race to 10 points) and the Lions in the match result at 7/4 on. Having not seen either side at full steam, picking the margin is always more of a lottery so I would perhaps look at the alternative margin of the Lions by 1-12 at 11/8, though the price boost of Lions by 6-10 is appealing at 11/2.
In terms of individual battles, at the team announcement Gatland paid special mention to the George North-Israel Folau duel. North has been superb on tour, Folau is the AFL and rugby league superstar making his rugby union debut. Individually, they're priced both at 5/2 for a try, but if you fancy both to score it's available at a juicy 14/1.
Elsewhere, O'Driscoll blew the Wallabies apart in the first Test 12 years ago, he's 100/30 to cross on Saturday. Interest is bound to come in behind both Phillips (4/1) and Tom Croft (5/1) who scored Test tries in South Africa four years ago and have looked in good touch this time around. If you like a last try scorer - then how about Kurtley Beale off the bench for the Wallabies to dot down (for a consolation!) towards the end? If so, it is 16/1 for the man with a point to prove.
It is all set to be one of the sporting events of this summer, and the atmosphere is building as thousands of Lions supporters arrive on the Gold Coast. I'm sure pulses will be racing anyway on Saturday morning, but hopefully a few winning bets will add to the drama. Good luck