The first All Black’s defeat in 47 home tests. The first All Black’s defeat at the Westpac stadium since 2003 and only their third ever at the ground. The Lion’s players have already made history as they head into the third and final test, but anything other than victory, and all will be forgotten.
Despite the enthusiasm and excitement that has surrounded the Lions in the UK press since Saturday’s victory, the bookies still see the All Blacks as strong favourites to wrap up the series in the third test with odds of 1-5 with Coral, Ladbrokes and Boyle Sports. It’s unsurprising seeing the All Blacks being backed by the bookies, the Lions never truly looked in control of the second test despite the dismissal of Sonny Bill Williams on 25 minutes. The Lions were ill disciplined, they gave away 13 penalties, a number that on any other day would have resulted in an All Blacks victory. Had it not been for Beauden Barrett missing 3 of his 10 penalty attempts at goal, the series would be wrapped up. But it is not.
Warren Gatland remains faithful in his charges as he names the first unchanged Lion’s test squad since 1993, incidentally, the 1993 squad also beat the All Blacks to take the test series into a third test decider. Betway and Boyle Sports are both offering 4-1 for a Lions win, and this is a Lion’s team that is capable of an upset. It took a great deal of character for the Lions to claim victory in the face of defeat as they trailed the All Blacks 18-9 on 60 minutes. The All Blacks simply do not lose when they’re in such a commanding position. The Lion’s players have also grown as a unit as the tour has progressed, and they’re now finding form. Mauro Itoje was outstanding in the second test and deserving of his starting birth after topping the tackle charts, Sean O’Brien was equally monumental in the loose, and Jonathan Davies is showing why Warren Gatland holds him in such high regard. But it will take a brave man to bet against the All Blacks. They haven’t lost back to back games at home since 1998 and Eden Park is a fortress. The All Blacks have not lost there since a 1994, 23-20 defeat to France, an unbeaten run that spans 23 years and 39 international test matches.
Steve Hansen has made three changes to the team that started the second test, Ngani Laumape replaces the suspended Sonny Bill Williams after causing the Lion’s defence issues. It’s Laumape’s first test start and as the joint top try scorer in this season’s Super Rugby, he will pose a real threat. Julian Savea, a player who is joint second on the All Black’s all time try scorer list with 46 tries in 53 tests, comes in on the wing and the supremely talented Jordie Barrett makes his first start at full-back. Such is the depth of New Zealand rugby; these changes almost look to improve the starting XV rather than weaken it. This is an All Blacks team with a point to prove, SkyBet are offering a winning margin of 6-10 points at 9-2 which looks a good bet for anyone who wishes to back the All Blacks with longer odds.
The first/last try scorer markets are offering up some attractive odds. Jonathan Davies was held up on the line early on against the Crusaders and made a useful line break early in the first test, giving a pass that eventually saw Elliot Daly held up on the line. He has 13 tries in 65 caps for Wales, but has yet to cross the white-wash for the Lions in a test match. He is due one and at 28-1 with Sky Bet he looks good value.
Connor Murray is another of the Lion’s backs that cannot be ignored, his try last Saturday made him the first Northern Hemisphere player to score 4 tries against the All Blacks. He hasn’t looked particularly threatening during this tour however, and this is reflected by odds of 28-1 with Sky Bet for him to grab the first try. Don’t back him for the last try scorer though, Rhys Webb is likely to enter the fray this time out.
For the All Blacks, Julian Savea’s strike rate cannot be ignored, the bookies are offering the shortest odds on him scoring the first or last tries in the third test, Paddy Power are currently offering the best odds at 15-2.
There are two other All Blacks that should be considered for first or last try scorer. Beauden Barrett is a gifted rugby player who possesses frightening pace, he has shown glimpses of his ability in both test matches but will, along with Sonny Bill Williams, be blamed for the loss of the 2nd test. He will be out to prove a point and already has 20 tries to his name in his 52 tests. Back him at 12-1 with Coral and Ladbrokes.
The other All Black with a point to prove is back row Jerome Kaino, who was sacrificed for Laumape following the sending off of Sonny Bill Williams. He has a decent strike rate for a forward with 12 tries in his 60 caps. Coral and Ladbrokes are offering an attractive 28-1.
So where should you put your money?
History points towards a New Zealand win, and that’s where the sensible money will be, but for many of the Lions this will be the biggest game of their careers – they will give everything. It will be a close game and that’s why I will be backing the Lions with a (+11 handicap) at 1-1 with Sky Bet.
I really like the look of Julian Savea as the first try scorer, especially when you consider how often Beauden Barrett deploys the crossfield kick in attack. Sky Bet also have a request-a-bet special offering 40-1 for Julian Savea to score the first try and the All Blacks to triumph by 6-10 points. If you’re looking for something with a better return, this is worth a punt.