International Test Matches – Week 3 Preview

Three mouthwatering clashes await us this weekend as all three of the southern hemisphere superpowers (AB’s, Wallabies, Springboks) are in action. The French have one last shot at redemption after an average New Zealand sojourn, the Wallabies stand waiting as the British & Irish Lions come to town and the Springboks host the might of the Pacific Islands, Manu Samoa on the Highveldt. Last week my selections didn’t go to plan, so I have decided to focus on the tier one clashes and you won’t want to miss any of these matches this weekend, particularly the Brisbane encounter. Sit back and relax as 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: British & Irish Lions -2.5 (PYOL) @ $1.82 – Sportsbet

Weekend Multi: NZ +13/B&I Lions/Samoa+22.5 @ $2.90 – Sportsbet

New Zealand ($1.05) vs France ($10.50)

The final match of the 2013 Steinlager test series wraps up this weekend in New Plymouth, a regional venue in the Taranaki region. The All Blacks have dominated the series to date and held the French scoreless in Christchurch last weekend in balmy conditions in a resounding display of test match rugby. It was their most complete performance for some time, even when considering the record-breaking run they have been on since the culmination of the Rugby World Cup in 2011. France on the other hand have had a season to forget and their subpar performances in the RBS 6 Nations has been reflected in their performances in New Zealand.

The All Blacks proved me wrong last weekend by crafting the most convincing victory of the international season, albeit against a tiring French team. Towering lock Sam Whitelock couldn’t have asked for a better reentrance into the test match arena with a man of the match display. It must be said that Ma’a Nonu is a better international player than a provincial player thanks largely to the troops around him. He played a key role in the All Blacks first try and his combination with one of the most devastating wingers in the game Julian Savea, will be a handful for any defensive system in the coming years. With the series wrapped up, coach Steve Hansen had the opportunity to blood some of his youngsters in the squad, however, he has gone for the jugular by naming arguably their strongest side of the series. The best ball player in the world Daniel Carter and the versatile Rene Ranger will make their first starts of the season. Unfortunately for Ranger, it will be his last game in All Black colours for a while as he hasn’t been able to negotiate a release from French club Montpellier, when he verbally signed earlier on in the season when his national prospects were looking slim. With the Rugby Championship on the horizon, some of the reserves might receive some extended minutes in New Plymouth to press their claims for future selection.

Looking at their opposition, the French season has 80 minutes to go and you get the feeling that it can’t come soon enough. They looked out of sorts in Christchurch and their lineouts were shambolic, conceding six turnovers on their own throw. The failure to capitalise on your opportunities and gifting the AB’s ball is a sure fire way to be punished and that is exactly what happened. The All Blacks went into the change rooms with a 10 – 0 lead a half time, but the moment of the match was when Les Bleus were on attack for no less than five minutes in the All Blacks 22, but were held out by some resolute and intimidating defence. France, all but conceded defeat in regards to their inability to break through the black wall, when Freddie Michalak attempted a drop goal, only to be charged down and the elusive Ben Smith crossed the chalk 80 metres in the opposite direction. To add further insult to injury, both Frederic Michalak and France’s superstar Louis Picamoles will be on the sidelines this week and one gets the feeling that their rudderless season will only continue this weekend.

The French only have pride to play for and with the All Black juggernaut starting to gather momentum, it will take a colossal effort to peg one back this weekend. The Kiwis are fielding a team with over 600 caps, whereas the

French are clearly looking to the future, especially with the announced backline. Dead rubber games are hard to pick, but the All Blacks are a two or three score better team than Les Bleus and I expect Dan Carter to have a big game back from injury and orchestrate the All Blacks to an undefeated start of their 2013 campaign.

Predicted result: New Zealand to win @ $1.05 – Sportsbet

Australia ($2.40) vs British & Irish Lions ($1.58)

Potentially the biggest three matches outside of the Rugby World Cup await us over the next few weeks as the Wallabies host the British & Irish Lions. The first installment takes place in Brisbane this weekend and with approximately 30,000 faithful fans making the trek down under, the atmosphere will be electric at Suncorp Stadium.

Australia’s first international of the year is so important, not only for player morale and confidence, but for setting the tone for the entire series. Despite a number of injuries, coach Robbie Deans has announced a strong lineup, controversially littered with Waratahs, to do the job on Saturday night. The Wallabies will look to draw on their impressive record at the cauldron known as Suncorp Stadium, but with the ticket prices lending themselves favourably towards the corporate market, it is safe to say that Waltzing Matilda will get drowned out by the tourist’s chant of “Lions, Lions, Lions”. It will be a huge night for Israel Folau, playing in his first rugby union test, but Folau will add extra impetus from the back and will look to utilize his sound defensive qualities against the rampaging George North. It must be said though that his experience of playing State of Origin matches for Queensland will help quell his nerves. Digby Ioane and Wycliff Palu, two damaging runners, have overcome their injuries to take their place in the run on 15. Additionally, the ill-disciplined Kurtley Beale will be counting his lucky stars after being named on the bench, but I expect him to get more game time as the series wears on. The Wallabies incumbent fullback Berrick Barnes starts instead, despite minimal game time this year through injury, which has a lot of Australian fans up in arms. A key factor that could unravel the Wallabies this week is their lack of match fitness, with the majority of their players not having seen game time for a number of weeks. If they find themselves behind on the scoreboard, it would require a huge effort to gain ascendency against seasoned internationals.

The British and Irish Lions haven’t won a series since 1997, when they overcame a talented Springbok side 2 -1. Since then, they suffered series defeats to Australia (2 – 1 in 2001), New Zealand (3 -0) and more recently South Africa (2 – 1) in 2009. Northern hemisphere rugby has always been inferior in comparison to their southern neighbours, but in recent years the gap has certainly been bridged. A number of their stalwarts retired after the Rugby World Cup in 2011 and consequently, a number of promising players have been unearthed. Any team that can name the likes of Halfpenny, O’Driscoll, Phillips, O’Connell and Adam Jones amongst others, will pose serious challenges to their opposition, both in tight and out wide. Having achieved five victories on their tour, their momentum was halted as the Brumbies achieved Australia’s second provincial victory over the tourists, with the first being the Queensland Reds in 1974. Based on the performance in Canberra, the gap between the starting 15 and the backup players is startling, but this is the moment captain Sam Warburton and co. have been waiting for, for a long, long time. The Lions know that this is their best opportunity to win a series in years and with a number of players on their second (and even fourth – Brian O’Driscoll) tours, their time might be now. This is what dreams are made of.

The Wallabies will look to stamp their authority on the visitors this week, but this will be the biggest challenge they have faced in some years. Both teams have been decimated by injuries, but the Lions have been able to call on international players as back up, whereas the Wallabies just don’t have the depth in their player pool. In the most anticipated clash since the RWC final, I expect the Lions to grind their opponents into submission and come out victors, much like they did in the first test match of the 2001 series.

Predicted result: British & Irish Lions to win @ $1.58 – Sportsbet

Best Bet 1: British & Irish Lions -2.5 (PYOL) @ $1.82 – Sportsbet

South Africa ($1.13) vs Samoa ($6.05)

Loftus Versfeld, a daunting venue at both provincial and international level will see the Springboks and Samoans fight it out for the Castle Lager Quadrangular Tournament trophy. Both teams head into this match having beaten Italy and Scotland over the past two weekends and it is only fitting that these two southern hemisphere nations clash for supremacy.

South Africa were nothing short of disappointing last weekend against an understrength Scottish outfit. Although they were behind on the scoreboard at half time, it was inevitable that the Springboks would prevail given their arsenal of superstars. They were certainly made to work, but it must be said that the breakdown was a lottery and there were a number of dubious penalties that kept the Scots in the game. Things couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start with promising flanker Arno Botha succumbing to a season ending knee injury, however, that opened up the door for the debutant Siya Kolisi. The Stormers dynamo firmly grasped his opportunity and his man of the match performance was delivered on the back of being his team’s leading ball carrier. In saying that, Kolisi might be shifted back to the bench this week with coach Heyneke Meyer recalling the recently wedded Francois Louw, whose physical presence at the breakdown will be a welcome addition to the starting lineup. The backline remains unchanged, but with Jean de Villiers under an injury cloud, youngster Jan Serfontein could be thrust into the international limelight for the first time as a starter. If this is the case, Cheetahs hooker Adriaan Strauss will take over the captaincy for the first time. With the stakes raised this week, the South Africans will know that a huge improvement will be needed to combat the brute nature of the Samoans.

Two victories in succession over northern hemisphere nations signal that Samoa has come on in leaps and bounds in recent years. What is most impressive is their structured approach, something that has eluded them in the past. Last week, their stubborn defense held firm and when Italy gifted them possession, they capitalised racking up several long-range tries. A rather unentertaining first half had the Nelsprait crowd wanting more, but Samoa opened up the floodgates after the break with four second half tries, with four of them courtesy of their dangerous backline. Taking a trip down memory lane, tempers flared the last time these two played at the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand when captain Paul Williams was red carded for striking Heinrich Brussow. South Africa went on to win that match 13 – 5 and I have no doubts that this encounter will be played with added aggression. With the minnows tag relinquished, Samoa will be looking for their third consecutive victory on South African soil and they will be every chance, especially if they catch the Boks on another off day.

For the third successive tournament, South Africa and Samoa have been drawn in the same Rugby World Cup pool in 2015 and with the possibility of no additional fixtures between these nations before then, this match holds extra importance. Both of these teams have bone crunching defense and the ability to score some scintillating tries, but the combinations conjured up in Super Rugby and the home field advantage could well be the difference on the scoreboard when the referee blows the final whistle – with the men in green trumping the men in blue.

Predicted result: South Africa to win  @ $1.13 – 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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