NEW ZEALAND MAORI ($2.50) VS BRITISH & IRISH LIONS ($1.50)
The fifth match of the British & Irish Lions tour of New Zealand will see the visitors take on a formidable New Zealand Maori outfit at the Rotorua International Stadium in Rotorua on Saturday evening. The New Zealand Maori are a team that try to get together for a couple of matches each year and last year they annihilated the USA Eagles 54 – 7 in Chicago. The Lions tour continues to throw up unpredictable results, with the midweek team losing to the Highlanders 22-23 in what is being dubbed the ‘thriller in the chiller’ on Tuesday.
Maori All Blacks head coach Colin Cooper has named a strong line-up looking to tame the Lions in Maori heartland this weekend. There are three players with All Blacks experience in the pack with Kane Hames (Prop), Elliot Dixon (flanker) and Liam Messam (number eight) selected. Joe Wheeler and Tom Franklin are an industrious, no-nonsense second-row combination and Akira Ioane will be a future All Black somewhere in the back row. Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Damien McKenzie form the halves pairing, with Charlie Ngatai and Matt Proctor in the centres. Both are dangerous runners and more than capable defenders. The outside back combination of Rieko Ioane, Nehe Milner-Skudder and James Lowe would more than likely better any International team and I expect them to run all day at the visitors to catch them off-guard.
Coach Warren Gatland has named a strong line-up to face the New Zealand Maori on Saturday. It is clearly obvious that he is now reverting back to International combinations in a bid to manufacture a more cohesive team performance. In the front row, Mako Vunipola and Jamie George of England will partner Ireland’s Tadgh Furlong. England’s Maro Itoje and George Kruis have been selected in the engine room with Ireland’s Peter O’Mahoney (captain) and Sean O’Brien on the flanks. Taulupe, formerly known as Toby, Faletau will lock the scrum from number eight. Ireland’s successful halves pairing of Connor Murray and Jonny Sexton have been entrusted to do a job for the Lions with Ben Te’o the bolter at inside centre, alongside Welshman and two-time Lions back, Jonathan Davies. George North (Wales) and the twinkle-toed Anthony Watson have been selected on the wings with Leigh Halfpenny (Wales) set to wear the number 15 jumper. Expectedly, the Lions will field a strong bench with Ken Owens (Wales), Jack McGrath (Ireland) and Kyle Sinckler (England) providing front row cover. Iain Henderson (Ireland) and Sam Warburton will offer second row and back row assistance respectively. Scotland’s Greig Laidlaw is the reserve scrumhalf with England’s Owen Farrell and Elliot Daly the remaining backline replacements.
The ‘main’ Lions team showed last weekend against the Crusaders that accurate kicking and good discipline if executed effectively can be enough to beat New Zealand teams. To keep the Super Rugby leaders try-less was extremely impressive and their physicality was where it needed to be. This will be the last opportunity for Lions players to cement themselves in next week’s Test team given that it is very unlikely that the starting 15 will be involved in the Chiefs game on Tuesday. Twelve years ago, the New Zealand Maori beat the Lions 19 – 13 on the back of spectacular performances by flanker Marty Holah and the dynamic Carlos Spencer (flyhalf). The Maori All Blacks, as they are sometimes referred to as, could really bust this game wide open with a number of future All Blacks amongst their ranks. This haka will be one to watch with the tensions set to be very high, but once it is all said and done, although the New Zealand Maori will put up a good fight and attempt to run the visitors off their feet, the Lions Test match experience should be able to keep the locals at bay by a narrow margin. I expect them to get more out of their bench than the New Zealand Maori side do.
Predicted result: British & Irish Lions to win @ $1.50