It is that time of the week again when 'Orrible Punt sits in the Planet Rugby hot-seat to reveal his calls. Get ready for the 2013 Lions and Top 14 Final.
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Barbarians vs British and Irish Lions
A Lions tour warm-up game or unnecessary money-spinner, depending on your view, was last seen in 2005. A 'disjointed' and 'lacklustre' Lions had to rely on a late Jonny Wilkinson penalty to draw with what was effectively a 2nd XV Argentinian side. There was 'conflict' reported between skipper Michael Owen's decisions to attack relentlessly and kick for lineouts and the style of play that a predominantly English pack wanted to play. Players since have also mentioned how they didn't feel the game merited being part of a Lions tour. Poor ticket sales - despite claims of a minimum of 10,000 travelling fans from Lions management in 2010 - and pressure to include local player Rowan Varty in the Barbarians squad have made headlines for this game. A less than enthusiastic performance against England, leading to a self-imposed alcohol ban and "horrific" heat and humidity have also stirred up some negative pre-game press.
An early approach for betting on British and Irish Lions games will be to treat them loosely like recent Wales matches. That means a presumption that the majority of kicks will be kept in-field, a focus on stretching the opposition midfield and hitting designated vulnerable defenders with big striker runners and relying on defence and fitness. That in turn points to the second-half handicap, -6 in this match, an area historically that Warren Gatland-coached sides have been strong in. It may also be the case that a later introduction of Jonathan Sexton for Owen Farrell would see an increase in the scoring rate at Hong Kong Stadium.
The game gives a chance for Lions fringe players to put down a marker and the established combinations selected may negate some of the usual problems that a first game on tour can bring. However, it also provides the Barbarians players with a rare chance to face the Lions and whilst structure will be missing, they will have been stung by criticism and have enough quality players in their side to cause at least early problems before fatigue kicks in. I think the conditions are also going to prevent the 'cricket score' predicted by some. Looking at try scorers, Justin Tipuric and Jared Payne appeal at 4.5, while the Sergio Parisse fan club will be excited at his 7.0. If you predict a Lions rout then a Stuart Hogg hat-trick is 51.0.
Toulon vs Castres
Hugely influential former Castres forward Chris Masoe (named Top 14 player of 2011/12 at the 'Night of Rugby' awards) departed for Toulon this season and it was hardly a secret that coaches Laurent Travers and Laurent Labit, along with the formidable Joe Tekori would also be exiting the club. With Rory Kockott, who has accumulated 363 points in 27 matches, also making noises about wanting to realise his international ambitions and leave, it wouldn't have been a shock if the side had struggled - Clermont are currently providing a good example of the chaos that can occur when a coach wants out. Instead Castres find themselves in the French championship final for the first time since 1995. Castres dealt with a flat Clermont side in the semi-final and finished the season with strong second-half performances, outscoring Racing Metro, Montpellier and Les Jaunards after the break.
Toulon represent a step up though and are on course to emulate Leicester, Wasps and Toulouse in achieving domestic and Heineken Cup glory in the same season. A dominant scrum, fierce work at the breakdown, faultless discipline and the boot of 'you know who' have so far seen Toulon improve upon their domestic and European runner-up status from last season. Looking at previous games between the sides, Castres have won three and drawn one at home by an average scoreline of 22-18 and lost three and drawn one away at Toulon by 15-25, with six of the last eight matches being decided by seven points or less.
Toulon didn't wilt when faced with Toulouse's first-half offloading game and I will be backing them by 1-12 margin to pick up the win in this final. The key may well be their discipline. Cards are given out quite regularly in the Top 14, with an average of 1.4 per match so 41 in 28 Castres games is about average and 28 in 27 Toulon matches relatively low. Castres finished the season with 17 cards shown in their last 10 games while their last six domestic knockout ties have produced 12 cards. There have been seven shown in the last eight meetings between the teams. On that basis, I will also be backing a Castres card while a drop-goal at 1.67 with Paddy Power needs consideration for the Stade de France fixture.