British and Irish Lions: Australia the value bet in opening Test

Sam Warburton will captain the British and Irish Lions in the first Test this weekend

Simon Mail previews the opening Test where he thinks Australia have been underestimated against the British and Irish Lions...

"Five of the last six tours have finished in a 2-1 scoreline and there is every reason to think this could be the case again."

Australia v British and Irish Lions 
Kick-off: Saturday 11am
TV: Live on Sky Sports 1

The British and Irish Lions start this weekend's first Test as favourites despite having failed to win a series since the victory in South Africa back in 1997. Optimism is running high and supporters fancy their chances of defeating Australia this summer but it looks anything but a foregone conclusion. 

Warren Gatland's side came unstuck on Tuesday after a weakened side lost their unbeaten record with a 14-12 defeat to the Brumbies. This was hardly ideal preparation but it's difficult to read too much into it, considering the changes between that game and the first choice Test side. Prior to that, the Lions breezed to five wins with all of them comprehensive, except for a tight victory over the Queensland Reds.

There is no doubting the quality and strength in depth to this Lions squad which is why so many people expect them to see off the Wallabies. That said, injuries have blighted them with Tommy Bowe and Jamie Roberts out of the first Test while props Cian Healy and Gethin Jenkins will miss the whole series. In addition, captain Sam Warburton's form since returning from a knee injury has been patchy and some think he should not even be in the Test back row. 

Australia have been written off by plenty of critics but no-one should forget they are still ranked third in the world. One question mark against them is their lack of match practice as the players have not been able to feature for their club sides in recent weeks. Australia's last game was back in December when they won 14-12 against Wales in Cardiff.

When the sides last collided 12 years ago, the Lions got off to a superb start with a 29-13 win in the first Test. But the hosts managed to turn it around and edge the series. Five of the last six tours have finished in a 2-1 scoreline and there is every reason to think this could be the case again. But you have to question whether the Lions can back up their favouritism with a record of four defeats in the last five trips. 

Gatland made just one surprise selection with England forward Alex Corbisiero given the nod over prop Mako Vunipola despite not even being in the original squad. George North's return to fitness following a hamstring injury is a significant boost for the tourists. The winger is one of eight Welsh players in the side, which is just one short of the record.

Robbie Deans has handed a debut to three players including former rugby league international Israel Folau on the wing. Digby Ioane also returns to action after recovering from knee cartilage surgery. There is a gamble at fly-half where James O'Connor starts in the position for only the second time in a Test match.

Australia will have no fears facing a team featuring so many Welsh players because the Wallabies have beaten Wales in the last eight clashes. There is undeniably talent running throughout this Lions side but they do have history against them, with just two wins in the last nine tours, and living up to the tag of favourites could be a tough ask.

The hosts are unfancied by many but at the prices available they look better value to edge the series. As for the Brisbane opener, slight preference is given to the hosts in the handicap market. But the contest looks so tightly matched that the tri bet offer of either side winning narrowly, which includes the draw, could easily be the best wager of the weekend.

Recommended Bets

Back Australia to win the series 2-1 at 4.1
Back Australia +3.5 points at 2.01/1
Back either team to win by under 7.5 points at 2.35/4

Follow Simon's bets on Twitter @watfordtipster

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