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Australia v British & Irish Lions Second Test preview

Occasionally the guest previews stretch to other sports and this weekend it's to cover the next Test of the Lions tour. Occasional blog contributor Jim Gilchrist, @jimgilch, dons the head bandage to assess the next contest in this thrilling series. You can read more of his excellent penmanship on his blog.

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Will the Pride Roar? Lions 2nd Test...

Following the first test success, a mixed bag of brilliance, nerves and ultimately no small slice of luck, the Lions are one game from glory, and a first series win since 1997. Can they do it against a wounded Aussie side, a side who missed 14 points with the boot, and probably feel they should have won?

There are so many fascinating features that make this second match so tough to call, but hopefully the blog will find some answers and a few worthwhile bets on the match! That this game gives the Lions a chance of history is undeniable, and can't be understated.

The occasional 'snipe' that this tour is more about commercialism (seven warm up games and three tests every four years) can be binned easily. Plenty sports events are open to attacks on that score these days, but Lions tours should be clear of such criticism. Anyone reading Ryan Grant's comments this week about what it means will understand! Indeed Gatland is on record as saying the Lions could have done with MORE warm up matches.

Firstly, the Lions have made five changes from the first match. That's unusual to start with for a winning side. Phillips pays the price for a stuttering performance from number nine last week. Perhaps he was struggling with a shoulder injury, but his half breaks were meat and drink for an Aussie back row who chewed him up. by the time a surprisingly one paced Lions back row arrived in support, the ball was turned over. Youngs will bring quicker distribution to Sexton and it's certainly encouraging that the two times he has played against his opposite number Genia, England beat Australia and Youngs was a catalyst.

Elsewhere injury sees Jamie Roberts drop out. His strength in midfield will be missed, while Tommy Bowe replaces Cuthbert, despite a fine try for the winger last week. Cuthbert might be unlucky, however Bowe brings added attacking dimensions, his lines of running are thrilling to watch and he certainly provides another attacking option for the Lions. Geoff Parling, five lineout steals already on tour, replaces O'Connell (injury), but the most controversial selection is with Vunipola replacing the unavailable Corbisiero in the front row.

I've not been impressed by Vunipola on this tour. Yes he is an exciting ball carrier and hits the gainline aggressively, but his scrummaging has been exposed, and Ryan Grant would have offered greater stability to the front row. Grant has been in fine form for Glasgow all year and is unlucky to miss out. Indeed he won the penalty against Alexander that saw the Scots record a famous win in Australia last year.

Of course it's not all about the Lions changes. Christian Lealiifano returns to the centre after being carried off last week. he will resume goalkicking duties and this time round i don't expect the Aussies to be as profligate with their goal-kicking as last week. O'Connor retains the number 10 jersey, however should he not fire, then at some stage Beale will move from full back into the role. It's worth remembering that Beale's game management in the final quarter last week was very good from 10, even though all people will remember are the two misses with the boot at the end.

Aussie skipper James Horwill is free to play having been cleared of a serious stamping offence by the citing Commissioner. Personally I am not surprised that the International Rugby Board have taken the unusual step of appealing the decision to clear him. In Union, yes people get rucked out of the way if the referee does not act on occasion, but the Head is sacrosanct and i thought that Horwill had ample opportunity not to make contact in the way he did.
I just hope no Lion risks a card this week by exacting revenge!
A yellow card might well be enough to swing a very finely balanced match either way.

FEATURES AND BETS:

Firstly, the roof is to be closed. Generally that adds to the number of points, as it takes out, rather obviously, bad weather. It makes a more stable atmosphere for goalkicking, and can reduce handling errors from a greasy ball. Anyone who saw my tweet on Wednesday suggesting over 42.5 points at 5/6 is already sitting pretty as the spread now is around 45. That said, Paddy Power's 6/5 for 36-50 match points, which takes out needing to call a winner, looks a strong play indeed.

The referee is Craig Joubert. That will lead to a lot of scrum penalties if his performance in the Scotland v Wales game earlier this year is anything to go by. A pernickety, fussy, performance that frustrated both sides in equal measure that day, Joubert's interminable delays and difficulties getting a scrum to even set made the game a real forgettable turn-off for spectators.

If the Lions can gain equality at the set piece, I believe they will win, however that's not a given in my book. Certainly the dry surface will assist Vunipola to keep the scrum stable, but early penalties against him would be a signal of trouble ahead.
Parling can disrupt the Aussie lineout, while Lydiate has been brought in primarily to, in football terms, man-mark Genia's blindside breaks.

Both sides have gifted matchwinners. Folau and Genia combined for that wonderful opening try last week, while George North showcased his marvellous talents in response, and O'Driscoll can still cut open any defence on his day. Leigh Halfpenny's goalkicking ultimately clinched the day last week, while the Lions themselves need greater discipline at the breakdown, where they were repeatedly pinged for minor and needless offences.

VERDICT:

A Lions win, but this will be another nailbiter. Before the start of the series this was logically the game the Lions seemed most likely to win, but arriving on eve of kick-off, injuries and a stuttery first Test performance have me less confident. The roof being closed undoubtedly favours the home side in terms of a more successful goalkicking performance, and should reward whichever side is more prepared to show courage in attack. Hopefully the referee will not wreck this match as he did at Murrayfield.

I think the Aussies will use the open side more this week, and Will Genia anytime tryscorer is too big at 5/1 with Ladbrokes. Folau is another to think about but he has been found in the market, so I prefer to look for a Lion and any Lions replacement (7/4 Hills) makes plenty of appeal. Bear in mind with the number of injuries that you could end up with someone, in that bet, on the field for almost the whole game.

Plenty people shy away from first score markets, on the grounds they think they are random. Infact they are anything but, most Test Matches start with a penalty, and even though the try has been lucrative on this tour, largely because of imbalance between the teams in early games, a home team penalty is generally a cash cow. I'm not going for it in this match but may well return to it next week.

Lions by 1-12 around 6/4 is the likeliest outcome in my view, but personally prefer the 15 point spread mentioned earlier of 36-50 at 6/5 with Paddy Power (which takes who wins out of the betting equation) and that would be my top bet this week.

Nervous, but excited... Let the Lions Roar!

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