International Test Match / Reds vs. Lions Preview

 

For true rugby union fans, there is nothing like test match rugby. Sure it doesn’t offer the entertainment value in terms of expansive game plans (most teams) in comparison to Super Rugby, but the passion, determination and pride in the national jerseys is incomparable. The rugby powerhouses of the southern hemisphere will be showcased this weekend for the first time in 2013 and based on initial team analysis, it is evident that the focus has now been shifted to blooding youngsters that could potentially factor at the Rugby World Cup in England in 2015. The Lions will face their sternest test yet against an experienced Queensland Reds in Brisbane, so sit back relax and enjoy the feast of rugby that lies ahead of us. After a solid round of predictions last weekend, good luck with your tipping, punting or predicting and don’t forget to follow me on Twitter (@S15_TheProfits) for game coverage, expert insight or just for a chat.

Best Bet 1: NZ vs. France – Total Points – Over 44.5 @ $1.87 – Sportsbet

Best Bet 2: B&I Lions (Team B) Over 3.5 Tries @ $2.10 – Sportsbet

Best Bet 3: England/Italy +35.5 (PYOL) @ $2.02 – Sportsbet

Multi Bet: 

Double Result – Wales/Wales
Double Result – Ireland/Ireland
New Zealand -6.5
Scotland +12.5
British & Irish Lions -9.5 

 

@ $2.99 – Sportsbet  

 

New Zealand ($1.07) versus France ($8.00)

The New Zealand All Blacks, one of the most successful sporting teams of all time, open their 2013 campaign against the team they successfully defeated to raise the William Webb Ellis (RWC) Trophy in 2011, and at the same venue. Consequently, the French nightmares will still be vivid after leaving New Zealand with what should’ve been one of their country’s proudest sporting moments. They have the chance to supress some of that pain this weekend against an All Black team missing a number of first choice starters.

 

The New Zealand Super Rugby teams haven’t faired as well as they usually do this year, with their teams evenly scattered from position one to fifteen. Stalwarts Richie McCaw and Daniel Carter are absent this week, with the former still on a much-deserved sabbatical and the latter out with an injury. The aura that is synonymous with New Zealand rugby seems to be diminishing and this year could well be one of their toughest in recent memory. A number of their incumbents aren’t in the best of form, but with names like Read, Cruden, Savea and Dagg, it is hard to bet against them. I am interested to see how they will fair, but what I am most excited about is see what type of game they are going to play. They are the most clinical team in world rugby that sets the platforms up front with a strong scrum and lineout and are well orchestrated by the mercurial Aaron Cruden, who is in fine form for the Chiefs. I expect Vito, Kerr-Barlow and Rene Ranger to make a huge impact off the bench and these players could well be the difference between a mediocre win and a blowout.

 

Les Bleus head into this week’s fixture as joint wooden spoon holders of the RBS 6Nations. However, much like the Springboks, a French team with their backs to the wall is often a bigger challenge. All Black coach Steve Hansen stated this week that “the only predictable thing about them (France) is their unpredictability.” One moment they can look like world-beaters and then the next, nothing more than a provincial side. Thierry Dusatoir will captain France yet again, despite a substandard 6Nations tournament earlier this year. It isn’t all bad news in France as in my opinion, Wesley Fofana is the best inside centre in the world and will be an exceptional attacking threat this weekend. Furthermore, Louis Picamoles who will lock the scrum at number eight is a devastating ball runner and a man mountain in defence and will surely create problems for a well-structured New Zealand defence. Camille Lopez and Adrien Plantè will face a baptism of fire in their debut matches, so it will be interesting to see how they perform in the pressure cooker environment that is test match rugby. The pressure is well and truly on the All Blacks, so this might play into Les Bleus hands.

 

Some of the greatest games of all time have featured the All Blacks and the French, namely the 1999 RWC semi-final in which France reigned supreme. Both teams play an attractive brand of rugby by throwing the ball around and counterattacking at every opportunity. Historically, matches outside of the world cup have favoured the All Blacks and the fact that they have home field advantage, it would be a surprise to see them taste defeat this weekend. Eden Park, the spiritual home of rugby, has been a happy hunting ground for the All Blacks having not lost since 1994 (to France) and it will continue this weekend by 13 points or more.

 

Predicted result:  New Zealand to win @ $1.07 – Sportsbet

 

 Best Bet: Total Points – Over 44.5  @ $1.87 – Sportsbet

 

 

Reds ($8.00) versus British & Irish Lions ($1.08) 

 

Australia’s strongest franchise in recent years, the Reds, will look to slow down the momentum of the British & Irish Lions this weekend at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane. The Queensland Reds have the impressive record of being the only state side in Australia to ever beat the Lions when they came up trumps 15-11 in 1971. The Lions team of 2013 is a whole new breed and so far have easily disposed of an international-laden Barbarians outfit and the Western Force in Perth on Wednesday night.

 

In true Queensland style and unlike the Western Force, the Reds have named their strongest possible team to face the might of the B&I Lions. The majority of the Reds spine including names like Slipper, Horwill and Genia are unavailable due to international selection, however, the Reds team that will run out this week will pose the Lions a much sterner challenge, as they are able to call upon twelve players with experience on the world stage. A number of the Reds players will be hoping to be called up to fill the final six places in the Wallabies squad due to be named next week, and a strong performance in this match will go a long way to catching coach Robbie Dean’s eye. This is a once in a lifetime match for the Queensland franchise and if they get ahead early, with the backing of a huge and passionate crowd, who knows what could happen.

 

From the first minute in Perth, the Lions looked fluent and dominated both their opponents and the scoreboard, albeit against an understrength Force outfit. The evergreen Brian O’Driscoll was in ominous form scoring a brace of tries and Leigh Halfpenny will most certainly run out at fullback in the first test after a 24-point haul courtesy of some flawless kicking (100%). Unfortunately for the tourists, the rout is over for their dynamic front rower Cian Healy, after being stretchered off the field with what looked to be a season ending injury in the first half. Moments earlier, Force halfback Brett Sheehan made allegations to the referee that Healy bit him off the ball, but he has since been cleared of any wrongdoing. As expected, coach Warren Gatland has made a sweeping number of changes including the first appearance on tour for captain Sam Warburton. Much like the tour squad in general, the match day 22 has a very Welsh feel to it including the entire back row. English sensation Owen Farrell has a huge task in front of him as he lines up against a special talent in Quade Cooper. If Farrell wins this battle, it will go along way to pushing Jonny Sexton for the fly half birth in the first test.

 

The Reds have more than enough firepower to match it with the Lions for parts of the match, however, based on the Lions two fixtures on tour to date and the class of their squad in general, it would be a monumental effort for the Reds to prevail as victors. Each tour game is a trial for the elusive first test match in Brisbane in a fortnight’s time, and with a few spots still up for grabs (from my calculations), the Lions will be hungrier and will strangle the Reds into submission – something that isn’t easily done at the fortress known as Suncorp Stadium. Lions should win this by about 20, weather permitting.

 

 

 

Predicted result: Lions to win @ $1.08 – Sportsbet

 

Best Bet: B&I Lions (Team B) Over 3.5 Tries @ $2.10 – Sportsbet

 

Scotland ($2.15) versus Samoa ($1.70)

Scotland and Samoa kick off the Castle Lager Series in South Africa on Saturday, which sees three double headers on three successive weekends. In a rugby first, fans in South Africa are salivating at the prospect of witnessing 160 adrenaline filled minutes as opposed to the standard 80 at the same ground. The Scottish squad hasn’t been affected as much as the other UK contingents, but they aren’t generally known for their depth. Samoa on the other hand will bring their sheer size and brute strength to the table this weekend and will be looking to bounce back after an unacceptable lost to the Golden Lions in Johannesburg last weekend.

 

Throughout history, Scotland have always been there or thereabouts, without ever being a consistent force on the global stage. Sure they have managed to knock over Australia and South Africa and regularly run a number of other teams close, but they just lack the killer punch or the X factor that other teams possess. Players like Kelly Brown and Johnnie Beattie are some of the most industrious players in the game, but rarely have the support around them to be a constant threat to the opposition. Newly appointed full-time Scotland coach Scott Johnson has named three debutants in his starting XV for Saturday’s clash with Samoa in Durban. However, the squad will have to dig deep to replace the holes left by fullback Stuart Hogg, winger Sean Maitland and lock Richie Grey, who are off on British & Irish Lions duty. Samoa’s bruising style of play will test the Scottish metal and you get the feeling that whoever wins the collisions and the battle up front, will go a long way to securing the match.

 

Samoa will be reeling after an embarrassing 74-14 defeat to the hands of the Lions, a former Super 15 team that was using this match as a warm-up game for their upcoming fixtures against the Southern Kings for promotion/relegation. Last week, Manu Samoa ranked seventh in the world, selected one of their strongest squads outside of the RWC and everything pointed to a strong victory, however, they were well and truly picked apart. Their upcoming opponents will undoubtedly be studying the footage of this match when devising a game plan to dismantle a physical Samoan outfit. Looking forwards, the Samoan team has more of a Super Rugby flavour this week with Hurricanes duo Jack Lam (flanker) and Alapati Leiua (wing) making their debuts. Their backs have the ability to cause Scotland huge problems, but only if their understrength forward pack allows them too. Their set piece will certainly be targeted and if they can gain parity here, they have some classy weapons in their arsenal to put on a show.

 

This match holds extra importance, as both teams will once again faceoff in Pool B at the Rugby World Cup in two years time. Either team getting a one up here could well and truly be a psychological advantage later down the track. This is an extremely hard match to pick because if Scotland turn up, they could prevail, but if they don’t the men from the Pacific could run riot. Therefore, I am leaning towards the team with the most developed combinations from playing club rugby together consistently by picking Scotland in a nail biter.

 

 

 

Predicted result:  Scotland to win @ $2.15 – Sportsbet

South Africa ($1.03) versus Italy ($12.50) 

 

The second match of the double header at Kings Park in Durban sees a developing Springboks side face an experienced Italian outfit coming off an improved RBS 6Nations, where they achieved wins against the might of France and Ireland. On Saturday, they play another green machine in the Springboks and history suggests that the result can only go one way. However, records are made to be broken and the Italians will be looking to bank on their experience and come out with what would be a colossal victory for Italian rugby.

 

Since the triumph of winning the 2009 Lions series, the Springboks have failed to assert themselves consistently on the world stage and both fans and players alike know that now is the time to turn things around. The Springboks are renowned for their dominant forward play and tactical kicking prowess, however, in the process they have failed to nullify their own attacking abilities. Coach Heyneke Meyer will inject new blood into the Springboks campaign with five players set to make their national debuts. I can’t remember the last time one of the top three nations (SA, NZ or AUS) made this bold a move, but in all honesty it is probably about time. There are some pleasing changes to the backline as both scrumhalf Jano Vermaak and fullback Willie le Roux will make their debuts. Vermaak has already played over 100 Super Rugby games and Willie le Roux has been the spark in the Cheetahs team for a few seasons that has seen them come on in leaps and bounds. Arno Botha (flanker) and Jan Serfontein (centre) of the Bulls in their own right could become Springbok legends and both will be utilised to pick apart a tiring Azzurri defence when they come off the bench. Heyneke Meyer has stated that they will have a more balanced playing pattern this year, so if the going gets tough it will be interesting to see if they resort back to old ways.

 

No longer are the Italians considered as ‘easy beats’ in world rugby. Their record in recent years must partially be attributed to ex-coaches John Kirwan and Nick Mallett for bringing them through the dark days. As a result of the development and unearthing of talents in years gone by, coach Jacques Brunel has been able to pick a largely settled side, but it is interesting to note that Alberto Di Bernardi has been drafted into the fly half position for his first cap. I will be interested to see how he handles the might of the Springbok forwards and whether his game management skills are up to it at this level. Italy have lacked a quality fly half for a number of years, but given the age of the newcomer (32), I doubt it will be him. Italy has the luxury of calling upon seasonal veterans, number eight Sergio Parisse and Marco Bortolami, both of which have been capped over 90 times by their country. Additionally, three other players have already reached their 50 test milestones, so this match will be anything but a walk in the park for the South Africans.

 

The rainbow nation are extremely harsh critics and expect more than what the Springboks have delivered them in recent years. It is hard to see Italy rolling over in this match, but the South African line up looks balanced and threatening, despite having at least five first choice players on the sidelines. South Africa has never failed to score four or more tries against the Azzurri and I expect them to continue this record and win by a margin of at least 13 points.

 

Predicted result: Springboks to win @ $1.03 – Sportsbet

 

Argentina ($2.53) versus England ($1.48)

The final international match of the weekend sees Argentina welcome a depleted England team to Salta. Argentinian rugby is on the rise after participating in their inaugural Rugby Championship last year and the more chance they have to play against other world class opposition, the better they will be and the better the state and profile of the game will be at home. England on the other hand will be excited about the prospect of facing the Pumas with a young and enthusiastic squad looking to turn up the pressure gauge on their regular incumbents, who are away on Lions duty. Both teams will be using this test match to rebuild their squads ahead of the Rugby World Cup in 2015, so keep an eye out for some of the youngsters coming through the ranks.

 

Despite failing to record a win in last year’s Rugby Championship, the Argentinians did manage to secure a draw against the mighty Springboks in Mendoza. They also pushed the Wallabies to the brink of defeat both home and away and you get the feeling that it is only a matter of time before the L’s turn to W’s. The Pumas are renowned for their superior scrummaging and clinical forward play, however, they will be up against it this week when England comes to town. Argentinian coach Santiago Phelan has chosen to rest a number of their star players after a debilitating northern hemisphere season. The Rugby Championship is clearly their main focus and this was illuminated when Phelan named seven players who have less than 10 international caps to their name. The evergreen Felipe Contepomi, a veteran of 79 tests, has been announced as captain and he will partner the lively Gonzalo Tiesi in the centres. Contepomi has amassed over 600 points at test level and over 2000 points in club rugby. His experience will surely come into play in this match and a number of the youngsters both inside and outside him will look for him to lead from the front.

 

England will be looking to record their third win on the trot against Argentina, but they will be well aware that they haven’t tasted victory in the South American country since 2002. England comfortably outplayed the Barbarians at rugby HQ a fortnight ago (40-12) and followed that up with a sound victory over the Consur XV (41-21), who were a team that was comprised of players from Argentina, Uruguay, Chile and Brazil. In both fixtures, the English used a dominant rolling maul and their size advantage (more so in Uruguay) to carefully outwit their opposition. Despite having ten players on Lions duty, coach Stuart Lancaster has picked players who have been standouts in the various European competitions. Players like winger Christian Wade, Joe Launchbury and Billy Vunipola will soon be household rugby names and this match is a huge opportunity for the second stringers to show their worth at test match level. Also, keep an eye out for flanker Matt Kvesic, who is a classic open-side flanker known for his pilfering abilities. Late news coming in is that their scrum has taken a hit as prop Alex Corbisiero has been called up to the Lions to provide cover for Cian Healy.

 

The English have had the luxury of playing two warm-up games, which will be important in terms of combinations and general morale, however, the Argentinians will be a huge step up from their opposition to date. The fact that Argentina has named an understrength teams signals to me that England will win this and will do so by more than a score.

 

Predicted result:  England to win @ $1.48 – Sportsbet

 

Author

Glenn Paton has followed rugby union for 15 years and has expert knowledge on the game freely committing to over 500 viewing hours a year. Having played with and against some current Super Rugby players and International superstars, he understands the game, the players and the laws inside out. Having been born in South Africa, spent time in New Zealand and currently living in Australia, Glenn lives and breathes rugby. With so many different tournaments happening around the world simultaneously and the addition of Rugby Sevens to the Olympic program, there are always plenty of healthy betting options available. An obsession, a passion, call it what you will, Glenn enjoys sharing his insight, opinions and predictions with anyone who wants to listen.

Specialities: Super Rugby, 6 Nations, Rugby Championship, International Tests, Currie Cup, ITM Cup, Rugby Sevens

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Glenn

Glenn has followed rugby union for 19 years and has expert knowledge on the game freely committing to over 500 viewing hours a year. Having played with and against some current Super Rugby players and International superstars, he understands the game, the players and the laws inside out. Having been born in South Africa, spent time in New Zealand and currently living in Australia, Glenn lives and breathes rugby. With so many different tournaments happening around the world simultaneously and the addition of Rugby Sevens to the Olympic program, there are always plenty of healthy betting options available. An obsession, a passion, call it what you will, Glenn enjoys sharing his insight, opinions and predictions with anyone who wants to listen.

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