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 Wallabies versus the Lions.
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Wallabies vs British and Irish Lions
The visitors have won fifteen of twenty Test matches against Australia and have a perfect record in Brisbane, with victories on all seven occasions by an average score of 20-6. However, it is also the case that since the Suncorp Stadium was redeveloped, the Wallabies have a dominant record there. They've won thirteen and drawn one of the sixteen matches since 2003, by an average score of 34-14 (it drops slightly to 30-14 if you ignore the 90-8 demolition of Romania). The losses were both by four points to New Zealand and they have only trailed at half-time once in this period. At their other home venues in the same time frame, it's 36 wins from 49 games at an average of 31-17 or more recently, just seven wins from fifteen games at a rate of 25-22. The Lions starting XV have faced Australia a combined total of 88 times and have been beaten in 71 of those games, with seven of the team having a 0% win record against them.
Both coaches have left a favoured player (Pat McCabe and Dan Lydiate) on the bench and opted for a more attacking choice instead, signifying the obvious need to make a good start to the series. The Lions have played in the style you would associate with a Warren Gatland-coached team while also showing a willingness to go wide quickly if required. By design, they have been saving up lineout moves, the driving maul, cross-field kicks etc for the Test matches, along with the plays that would bring the powerful wingers running into midfield.
The Wallabies have picked a backline full of options and while Rebel James O'Connor is inexperienced at playing fly-half at this level, he has a world class scrum-half and second playmaker alongside to share the decision making burden. Christian Lealiifano is also capable of shipping the ball wide at pace and looking to expose weaknesses in the defensive system around the edges that both the Reds and 'Tahs discovered. The inclusion of Berrick Barnes means there are a number of different kicking options available, and the Stephen Moore to Ben Mowen line-out pairing has proved very successful this season in Super Rugby. Kurtley Beale is on the bench and both he and Barnes exploited gaps in Andy Farrell's defence patterns at Twickenham last November, with a variety of well-placed chip kicks. It does seem likely they will look to go over or around the 'slabs of red meat' and as such the tempo should be quick. I'm not so sure the theory that the Wallabies are at huge disadvantage due to being 'under cooked' holds up to scrutiny, especially when you consider a large number of the Lions team have been used sparingly themselves. The game against the 'Tahs featured eleven of Saturday's starters but other than that, like their opposition - the main work on combinations will have taken place on the training field.
The Lions are a best of 1.67 to win this game and 1.62 for the series and both look too short for what should be a close trilogy of games. I do think they will win on Saturday, mainly due to the strength of their front five and accuracy of goal-kicking, but took a winning margin of 1-5 points at 5.5 rather than the outright price. I like the idea of Leigh Halfpenny as man of the match at a best of 10.0 with Paddy Power and to score over 13.5 points. Ignoring all the hype for a moment - Australia are at home, in a stadium they have made a fortress and whilst nobody wants it to be a factor - the match is officiated by a southern hemisphere referee. On that basis 2.62 for a home win, a +4 handicap and even +9 points at 1.5 all offer good value.
There was a suggestion that it may rain during the match so I took 21.0 for no try earlier in the week, before the teams were announced. I am not expecting anything from that bet now, but for those backing a high scoring game I'd consider the pressure of the occasion (despite the potential attacking nature of the sides) and that the average total points has been just 38 in Reds home games this season, 39 in the last ten internationals there and the tour game produced 34 points. Half-backs have scored eight of the 33 Lions tries so far - Jonathan Sexton is 41.0 to be top Test try scorer for the visitors and Mike Phillips 17.0. If that angle isn't of interest, then in this match Israel Folau at 3.75 anytime scorer and Michael Hooper (8.5) both look big, while Brian O'Driscoll is 4.5 to run in for a try in Brisbane again.