Simon Mail previews the much-anticipated British & Irish Lions Test series and thinks it is difficult to bet against the world champions...
"New Zealand are overwhelming favourites to win the three-match series and it would take an optimistic supporter of the Lions to predict a victory at [6.2] for the outsiders."
The British & Irish Lions face the toughest challenge in rugby with a series against world champions New Zealand. Warren Gatland steered the Lions to a 2-1 victory in Australia four years ago but there is no doubting the size of their task this summer. The All Blacks, world ranked number one, have no real weaknesses and it will take an outstanding set of performances from the Lions to upset the odds.
New Zealand are overwhelming favourites to win the three-match series and it would take an optimistic supporter of the Lions to predict a victory at [6.2] for the outsiders. The hosts warmed up for the first Test by crushing Samoa 78-0 and are heavily fancied to overcome the Lions. That said, the All Blacks are effectively unbackable at [1.2] to win the series.
Series Correct Score
If we are expecting an All Blacks series win it leaves two options on the correct score with a 3-0 triumph a short price at [1.68]. Much will depend on this weekend's opener but if New Zealand get off to a winning start it would be a surprise if they did not go on to clinch a clean sweep as they achieved in 2005. Whether you want to take this odds-on shot remains to be seen.
If there is to be any value in this market then a 2-1 series win for Steve Hansen's side
may offer it at [4.1]. The Lions are likely to be competitive and their defensive qualities could stifle the All Blacks. This could be enough to edge one match, particularly if conditions are attritional, but it is hard to have enough confidence to back this scoreline.
The Lions have it all to do in New Zealand and it is virtually impossible to make a case for them winning 3-0. The best the visitors can surely hope for would be a 2-1 success at [9.8] which was last achieved against their opponents in 1971. Even at those odds there is no temptation to side with them. Winning in Australia is one thing - beating the All Blacks is a different proposition altogether.
When looking at this market it is worth weighing up which team are likely to score more tries and this points overwhelmingly in New Zealand's favour. While the Lions have focused on a defensive gameplan during the build-up matches, with their attack failing to sparkle, the All Blacks have been relentless. In their last ten home Tests, New Zealand have scored 62 tries.
This emphasises the need to back an All Black in this market because the Lions are unlikely to outscore their opponents. The clear favourite is Julian Savea with the prolific wing an obvious contender but there is no value in his price at 11/5. It could be worth gambling on Beauden Barrett at much bigger odds of 20/1 each-way. The New Zealand fly-half has been in excellent scoring form with four tries in his last three Tests.
Tries have not been easy to come by during the warm-up matches for the Lions but it could be worth backing Anthony Watson to top score for the team during the series. The wing has an impressive record scoring 13 tries in 26 Tests for England. Watson also marked his Lions debut with a try in the opening win over the Provincial Union XV. His pace and skillful feet could trouble the home defence and looks, with George North not at his best, their most likely top scorer at 5/1.
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2016/17 Rugby P/L