International Test Matches / British Irish Lions vs. Waratahs – Week 2 Preview

 

With the international test matches in full swing, the continuation of the British & Irish Lions tour down under and the Junior Rugby World Cup in France, rugby diehards are in heaven. Last week didn’t produce too many surprising results, but I must mention Samoa’s maiden win over Scotland and the Reds never-say-die attitude in Brisbane, when they fell just short against the Lions. This week we see the second installment of the All Blacks and France rivalry, the Waratahs hosting the Lions and round two of the Quadrangular tournament in South Africa. I have chosen a number of multi bets this week as a result of the short odds that have offered. With Super Rugby on hold for a few more weeks, sit back and relax the world’s best compete on the international stage. 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: South Africa -12.0 (2-way halftime handicap) @ $1.86 – Sportsbet

Best Bet 2: Wales/New Zealand/England/Ireland/South Africa (HT/FT) @ $1.88 – Sportsbet

Best Bet 3: France+23.5 (PYOL)/Italy+17.5 (PYOL)/South Africa-17.5 (PYOL) @ $2.52 – Sportsbet

New Zealand ($1.11) versus France ($7.00)

AMI Stadium in Christchurch plays host to the second test between the New Zealand All Blacks and Les Bleus this weekend, and fans will be hoping for a more entertaining fixture. The All Blacks drew first blood last weekend in Auckland in rather an unconvincing display, however, in the end their class got them through over a stubborn French unit. Both teams lacked continuity and the match produced a high error rate from both sides in seemingly good conditions.

Eden Park must hold the record for one of the most unyielding grounds for foreign teams to visit, as the All Blacks have a 19-year win streak, including 31 victories. As I spoke about last week, the All Blacks are in a transition period and without the likes of Richie McCaw and Dan Carter, I personally don’t think they produce that aura that they are synonymous for. In welcome news, New Zealand captain and All Black great Richie McCaw has revealed that he is ready to return from his sabbatical in a month’s time, priming himself for the rigorous Rugby Championship. Last week, the mercurial Aaron Cruden controlled the game well from fly half, and managed to knock over a number of penalty goals to keep the scoreboard ticking over. It took a ten-minute period before half time to secure the match for the All Blacks, when both lively scrum half Aaron Smith and rising star Sam Cane crossed the chalk. I expect the AB’s to hit another gear this week and I am excited to see Ben Smith in the starting line-up again, after an exceptional season for the bottom-ranked Highlanders. Unlike in the past, Coach Steve Hansen has named an unchanged starting line-up for this week’s encounter, however, the bench has been bolstered by Tony Woodcock and Piri Weepu who return from injury.

Last weekend, the French easily covered the line against the All Blacks and it was a testament to their character by not being blown away at the spiritual home of rugby. The French heaped a lot of pressure on the New Zealander at the breakdowns and it is widely known, if you can beat the Kiwis there and in the collisions, chances are you will secure a favourable result. Les Bleus are known for their strong scrumming ability, however, they will need to tidy up that aspect of their game after they were heavily penalised by Wayne Barnes last week. France’s standout performer Louis Picamoles was prominent on both attack and defence, but failed to gather a ball when the try line was in sight, which certainly would’ve made things interesting. In other tour news, France ‘B’ easily took care of an understrength Auckland Blues outfit during the week and a number of French reserves certainly pressed for claims of an official test cap in the coming weeks. For me, the days of Frederic Michalak representing France on the international scene are numbered. He hasn’t been in his best form in recent times, but coach Philippe Saint-Andre clearly has faith in him by naming him to start at fly half this weekend. Saint-Andre also announced three other changes with prop Nicholas Mas, South African flanker Bernard Le Roux and lock Christophe Samson all drafted into the team.

The first match on the southern hemisphere international calendar generally starts pretty slowly, given the lack of combinations and team synchronicity. The extra week in training will no doubt sharpen a number of aspects that

failed to entertain last week, but the All Blacks won’t want to give the French a sniff given their history of producing something special in matches of huge importance. The French are at the end of a long season, whereas the All Blacks are only just beginning, so I expect the AB’s to come away with a series clinching victory, but the French will keep the scoreboard respectable.

Predicted result: New Zealand to win @ $1.11 – Sportsbet

Waratahs ($14.00) versus British & Irish Lions ($1.02)

The New South Wales Waratahs host the travelling British & Irish Lions at Allianz Stadium in Sydney. The Waratahs will be well rested after a final round demolishment of the Force in Perth and a number of players will be looking forward to this once in a lifetime experience. The Lions are currently playing two matches a week, however, they have a large tour party and leading into the first test match in Brisbane next week, their matches have been getting increasingly more difficult. They are yet to faulter on tour, but they know that this game won’t turn into a cricket score.

The British & Irish Lions are slowly and confidently building towards the much-anticipated first test match at Suncorp Stadium next weekend. They have easily disposed of the Barbarians, the Force and QLD/NSW country on Tuesday night. The Queensland Reds posed a sterner challenge last week, but the class of the Lions prevailed in trying conditions. Captain Sam Warburton will lead the Lions for the second time on tour and will be supported by seven players who played the first test against South Africa four years ago. Impressive youngster and replacement winger Simon Zebo will also start his first match of the tour. There were initial discussions that he would be included in the original Lions squad as the ‘bolter’, however, he will be looking to use this occasion to announce himself on the world stage. From my calculations, at least eight of the starters will face up against the Wallabies next week, so I expect them to put in a strong performance in front of coach Warren Gatland. Keep an eye out for players like Tom Croft (flanker), Jonathan Sexton (fly half), Jamie Roberts (centre) and Leigh Halfpenny (fullback), who will showcase why they are the best players in the northern hemisphere in their positions.

Allianz stadium has been good to the Waratahs this year and the home side will look to give their fans something to cheer about in their last game at that venue in 2013. There is a chance of rain in Sydney tomorrow, which will well and truly play into the hands of the Lions, as their pack looks streaks ahead of the understrength Waratahs forwards on paper. It is important to note that the Waratahs have been the most efficient Super Rugby team in terms of their offensive play this year. They currently lead the competition in tries scored (43), line breaks (143), carriers (1828), metres gained (7248) and offloads (186). However, I wouldn’t look into these statistics too much given they are missing a whopping 11 players across the park due to Wallabies commitments or injuries. Keep an eye out for Will Skelton, who weighs in at approximately 135kg and stands two metres tall. Despite his baby face looks, he doesn’t shy away from the physical stuff and is a handful when it comes to defending mauls. Robbie Deans did release back rower and Waratahs captain Dave Dennis and defensively sound centre, Rob Horne, which signals that they most likely won’t be involved in the first test squad (probably a relief to Wallaby fans).

Although I don’t think the Waratahs will be able to compete with the Lions as well as the Reds did last weekend, they are a proud franchise and will certainly make a fist of it. The Lions are yet to taste defeat on tour and I can’t see it happening this week, especially with the test squad due to be announced a few days after the culmination of this match.

Predicted result: British & Irish Lions to win @ $1.02 – Sportsbet

Samoa ($1.27) versus Italy ($3.85)

On Saturday evening, Samoa and Italy clash in an important matchup in the Quadrangular series in South Africa. The first of a double-header will be played at Mbombela Stadium in Nelsprait, which is a rare destination on the test match calendar. Consequently, I expect the local fans to turn out in numbers to support the four quality test match teams in action. Last weekend, Samoa bounced back from a demoralizing loss to the Lions (ex-Super 15 franchise) by beating Scotland for the first time in their nation’s history. Italy on the other hand were comprehensively outplayed by an emerging Springbok team and will be looking to restore some credibility back into their end of season campaign.

In Durban, Manu Samoa got off to a brisk start at Kings Park with James So’oialo and bullocking winger Alesana Tuilagi (brother of Manu – England) both scoring tries. Scotland pulled things back slightly, but the margin was too great to overcome when Tuilagi crossed for his second try in the latter half of the match. Samoa are an entertaining team to watch, as they play to their strengths and spread the ball wide at will. If they want to continue their rise up the world rankings, they will need to consistently beat teams like Scotland and Italy and especially when they are understrength and just at the tail end of a long and arduous season. Super Rugby players Alapati Leiuia and Jack Lam had strong games and their coach Stephen Betham will be looking for them to impress again against arguably more difficult opposition. If Samoa wins this matchup, they will qualify for the Quadrangular Tournament final, with South African likely to be their opponents.

Although Italy lost the match against the Springboks last week, they showed true grit and if it weren’t for a few moments of brilliance from the evergreen Bryan Habana, things could’ve been closer. Coach Jacques Brunel has made seven changes to this week’s team including the introduction of Canale (centre), Orquera (fly half), and Mauro Bergamasco (flanker). I believe these changes alone strengthen their team considerably and they will know that if they play well and catch Samoa on a subpar or average day, they have enough in the tank to overcome them. Italy are a team that constantly battles with consistency issues and although their player pool suffers as a result of the popularity of the round ball game, they have shown moments of brilliance over the years, thanks largely to captain Sergio Parisse and his leadership.

Samoa are a powerful unit and their brute size and strength is intimidating to face. Italy looks to play a more conservative game and rely heavily on the dominance of their scrum. Samoa will be beaming with confidence after their performance last week and with a full-strength squad they resemble the team that has faired so well at recent Rugby World Cups. Based solely on the performances last week, the Samoans should outmuscle the Italians, but it certainly won’t be a blowout as the Italian structures are much better than they have been in the past.

Predicted result: Samoa to win @ $1.27 – Sportsbet

South Africa ($1.01) versus Scotland ($17.00)

The second match of the double-header and the main event sees the hometown heroes the Springboks face off against an under-firing and understrength Scotland team. The Springboks easily disposed of Italy last weekend and were probably the most impressive international team of the weekend. On the other hand, Scotland were on the receiving end of some powerful blows inflicted by Manu Samoa and as aforementioned, they allowed Samoa to record their first ever win over the UK nation.

Last week the Springboks raced out to a 20-0 lead before Italy briefly hit back just on the stroke of half time. Their power and class eventually shun through and the match ended 44-10 in favour of the Springboks. Bryan Habana is one of those players that always raises his game to the next level when he dons the Springbok jersey. His man of the match performance was capped off with two breathtaking individual tries that showcased both his skill and outright pace. Both fullback Willie le Roux and flanker Arno Botha had memorable debuts and injected fresh life into the Springbok setup. The move towards a younger squad with the Rugby World Cup in sight is long overdue and in the next two years I can see a few of the youngsters take over from the seasoned veterans, namely captain Jean de Villiers. JJ Engelbrecht has also come on in leaps in bounds this season and he certainly fits the mould of what Heyneke Meyer requires at this level – tall, pacey and powerful.

It would be fair to say that things are looking grim for Scotland this week, not only after their poor performance against Samoa, but the fact that they picked up a number of tournament ending injuries in that game. Most notably, the workhorse and Scottish captain Kelly Brown sustained a serious ankle injury, so Scotland will certainly miss his grunt and industrious style of play. Admittedly, Scotland did defend resiliently in patches against Samoa, however, they were simply outmuscled at the contact area and in turn, fell short on the scoreboard. Scotland were kept in the match thanks to the boot of Greg Laidlaw, but you get the feeling that they will need to create more try-scoring opportunities if they are to trouble the Springboks this weekend. The Springboks are a whole new beast and they will be sharper and more clinical than what Samoa were last week. Scotland plays with pride and passion and have a relatively good record against the Boks, but this isn’t Murrayfield and they will need to be at the top of their game to keep things respectable in Nelsprait.

Everyone expects the Springboks to take out this tournament and anything less than three victories will be catastrophic for South African rugby. Although Scotland will pose some different threats to that of the Azzurri, the Springboks systems and player pool have the flexibility to adapt to whatever is thrown at them. Scotland are the least affected squad of the United Kingdom teams, but they have been decimated by injuries and their fans wouldn’t in their wildest dreams believe they have a chance of coming close to the Boks this weekend.

Predicted result: South Africa to win @ $1.01 – Sportsbet

Best Bet: South Africa -12.0 (2-way halftime handicap) @ $1.86 – Sportsbet

Argentina ($7.00) versus England ($1.11)

Estadio Jose Amaifitani in Buenos Aires will host the second and final test match between Argentina and England. The first match was one way traffic when a second-string England unit easily handled everything Los Pumas threw at them and managed to come away victorious by a 32 – 3 margin in Salta.

Argentinian fans and players will be extremely disappointed at their efforts last week. Not often do you see a Pumas lineup get taken to the cleaners, especially in the first half. Consequently, Argentinian coach Santiago Phelan has wielded the axe and made five changes. Depth at this level is crucial and although Argentina have bolstered their backup stocks in recent years with a number of their players based in Europe, the class of the troops that remain on the sidelines preparing for the Rugby Championship are almost irreplaceable, especially for a developing nation. All players that run out this week have a lot to play for with the squad for that tournament to be named in the near future, but you get the feeling that nothing short of a monumental performance will be required for the home side to prevail.

England will be looking to win their first test series over Argentina since 1981, in the Argentinian capital. Coach Stuart Lancaster was stripped of a handful of players as a result of the British & Irish Lions series, but the players he has selected have injected enthusiasm and youth into the English program. More importantly, they are players that have been in scintillating form for their European clubs and I have no doubt many of them will end up making the Rugby World Cup squad in 2015 (in England). Players like Henry Thomas, Christian Wade, Matt Kvesic, Billy Vunipola and Kyle Eastmond looked comfortable at test match level and they couldn’t have asked for an easier initiation. Lancaster is carefully manufacturing a squad that has very few chinks in their armour and they certainly will be a team to watch in the years to come.

Against the odds, I was happy to back a second-string English side last week given the lack of experienced talent in the Argentinian lineup. This will be the last match that a lot of the English players play for a while, so they will give it their all and based on last week’s result, that should be enough against a weakened Argentinian squad. England should win by two or three tries.

Predicted result: England to win @ $1.11 – 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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Author

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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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