British and Irish Lions Tour of New Zealand: New Zealand v British and Irish Lions (1st Test)

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The All Blacks and British and Irish Lions go head-to-head in the first of three Tests this Saturday. 

The moment rugby fans across the globe have been waiting for will be upon us this Saturday when the All Blacks and Lions lock horns at Eden Park. The hosts registered a massive victory over Samoa last week while the Lions showed they aren't in New Zealand just for sightseeing by putting in a clinical performance against the New Zealand Maori last weekend.
This is going to be an absolute epic and you won’t want to miss a minute of the action, so make sure that alarm is set.

New Zealand v British and Irish Lions | Saturday 24 June | Eden Park | 09:35

To Win (80 Mins)
New Zealand 2/11 | Draw 33/1 | Lions 7/2
Handicap
New Zealand (-10.5) 9/10 | Lions (+10.5) 9/10

New Zealand
Steve Hansen will be pleased with his side's showing against Samoa last week but he’ll know they face a much sterner test this Saturday, especially if the game is played in wet conditions. The Lions boys illustrated just how well suited their brand of rugby is to wet weather conditions last Saturday with their up-and-unders and smart box kicking causing absolute havoc amongst the Maori All Blacks back three.

Steve Hansen has attempted to counteract this Lions' tactic by making a few surprise changes to his back three. The All Black mentor has left out both Waisake Naholo and Julian Savea with Israel Dagg and Rieko Ioane taking the wing berths. It’s actually not the worst ploy as while Naholo and Savea bring a lot of power to proceedings, they have both been culpable of making a few errors while fielding kicks.

There are a few other surprise selections in the All Blacks back division with Sonny Bill Williams set to play inside of Ryan Crotty, who takes over the outside centre role from one of the stars of last weekend’s show, Anton Lienert Brown.

On to the forwards now and the All Blacks were handed a massive boost this week with talismanic skipper Kieran Read returning to fitness. The Crusaders eight is just the sort of player you want marshalling the troops in these high-intensity encounters.



Lions 
Now, that was more like it from the Lions. Yes, there were still elements of their game that looked a bit shaky against the Maori but the manner in which they were able to put some of Super Rugby's big names under pressure through their tactical kicking exploits was quite remarkable.

Another facet of the Lions game that impressed was their rush defence. I was actually reminded of the Springboks Circa 2007 watching the Lions backs rush up on their opponents. The tourists will need to replicate that defensive effort this coming week if they are to have any chance of upsetting the hosts.

Like Hansen, Warren Gatland has thrown in some left field selections for this one, handing starts to Ben Teo and Elliot Daily. These sections seem to indicate that Gatland is setting up his side to have a go on the counter.

Another selection that turned my head was Sean O’Brien getting a start on the flank ahead of Sam Warburton. The Welsh skipper has always been Gatland’s blue-eyed boy but it seems old ‘Gats can no longer justify playing the unfit Warburton ahead of the Irish workaholic, O’Brien.

Verdict: New Zealand (-10.5) 9/10
It will be brutal, it will be uncompromising but somewhere around the 67-minute mark the All Blacks will turn on the magic and clear the handicap.

Written by Darry Worthington for @Hollywoodbets.net!

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