New Zealand v Lions 1st Test Betting: No secrets can scare the All Blacks

Powerhouse - New Zealand captain Kieran Read is fit for the first Test
Powerhouse - New Zealand captain Kieran Read is fit for the first Test
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Warren Gatland will name his first Test team today and has been trying to keep his decisions under wraps. Ralph Ellis fears it won't shield him from reality...


"The first Test will come down to just one thing: can the Lions, [4.8] outsiders, whose tactics are based firmly around their set pieces and their line speed in defence, really keep out the flair of the [1.3] double World Cup winners for 80 minutes?"

I covered England's football teams during the Glenn Hoddle era when it seemed every team he picked had a surprise in it.

Glenn, bless him, was obsessive about trying to keep his latest selection secret from the opposition. He once famously told current England manager Gareth Southgate to limp out of an open training session feigning injury when there was actually nothing wrong with him.

The players, however, always knew the team on Thursday lunchtime and you could guarantee that in time for Friday morning's papers we pressmen would know it too. They talked to agents, to family, to friends, and somewhere we could always find a leak.

The memories came back after reading this morning that the British & Irish Lions organised a search of their hotel room for listening devices while Warren Gatland and his backroom team are discussing the side they pick for Saturday's first Test against the All Blacks.

"We have a security team who are experts in this," boasted John Feehan, the Lions chief executive. All very cloak and dagger, but a bit odd when you consider that Gatland himself will name his exact fifteen at about nine o'clock tonight. Who needs to bug the hotel when you've then got two days to prepare?

It all seems to be part of the phoney war that Gatland has been playing ever since his squad touched down in New Zealand. He's tried to grab the PR agenda by claiming the world champions are rattled and then accusing them of illegal blocking tactics.

When all the talking stops, though, the first Test will come down to just one thing: can the Lions, [4.8] outsiders, whose tactics are based firmly around their set pieces and their line speed in defence, really keep out the flair of the [1.3] double World Cup winners for 80 minutes?

I've argued since Gatland picked his tour party that backing Gatland at [6.6] to follow his triumph in Australia four years ago by being Series Winners again is worth a punt. And while the tour got off to a slow start his side are definitely showing signs that they are beginning to gel.

His Saturday team, the one that matters, has gone through warm-up matches against the Crusaders and then the Maori All Blacks conceding only one try. And with Owen Farrell expected to be confirmed fit they have their X-factor player available.

When Harry Ellis was telling me during our Betfair Big Interview about Gatland's qualities as a coach, and talking me through how that defence could spring a surprise, I was just beginning to think my optimism and my money was well placed.

Then we got to the charity bet when he had to put some money at stake too, and reality came home. "The All Blacks to win by more than 13 points at [2.2]", he said.

It was a shuddering reminder that this is the world's most elite sports team, boosted by getting their powerful captain Kieran Read back from injury. This is the side that under Steve Hansen has become a magnet for every coach in every sport to take lessons on work rate, on team ethic, on combining flair with pragmatism, on always finding a way to win. This was the side I backed for the 2015 World Cup for months with more and more money so why have I lost my faith now?

I'd already got my bet on for a Lions win, but I'm no longer holding out much hope. They don't need listening devices because we'll tell them the team anyway. To be honest, all they probably need is the ball and they are likely to get plenty of that.


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