The British and Irish Lions are heading into the First Test against New Zealand feeling quite pleased with themselves after beating Chiefs in their last warm-up match before the serious business begins. The visitors play three internationals against the All Blacks during their first trip to New Zealand since 2005 over the next three Saturday mornings at 08:35 UK time with each fixture live on Sky Sports.
The Lions have embarked on 11 tours to New Zealand from the first trip in 2004. They only won the 1971 series but have lost the other ten. Traditionally New Zealand are the best team in the world so beating them on the road is a tough proposition. The 1971 Lions squad included some of the best players in the history of the sport and the current generation are way behind in terms of quality.
The Lions have played New Zealand away from home 38 times in total and have won just six of those fixtures but there have been 3 draws. New Zealand have scored 634 points over the history of the fixture and the Lions have put 345 points on the board. These are generally low scoring encounters with the All Blacks averaging 16 points and giving up on average nine points in these matches. These Tours only happen about once a decade but generally the hosts are too strong for their guests from the British Isles and Ireland.
Recovering from jet lag and acclimatising to the conditions pose problems early in these trips. This time the Lions beat a provincial side 13-7 in the opening match as a jet-lagged Lions recorded an unconvincing win. Auckland Blues were too good for their guests in the next match but the Lions lacked discipline and could not convert several promising situations into tries. The Tour started badly but these are prep-matches for the main events which are the three Tests.
The Lions showed more quality against Crusaders but there were no tries in the match which was decided by four penalties from Owen Farrell. The Lions then scored three tries against Highlanders but lost by one point. The tourists took their game to a new level with a impressive win against the Maori All Blacks and then beat Chiefs by 34 points to 6 in the last match before the First Test. It is the result of the three internationals tat will define the tour and a 2-1 series result would be seen as a success. In that caser the results of the other matches would be forgotten.
New Zealand are formidable opposition, especially at home. They won the World Cup on their own patch in 2011 and became the first team to defend the title when beating Australia in the 2015 World Cup Final at Twickenham. In 1987 New Zealand won the first World Cup and were runners-up in 1995. New Zealand, Australia and France are the only teams never to finish outside the top 8 in the history of the World Cup which spans eight tournaments. Japan are the hosts for the first time in 2019.
The Rugby Championship is the regional tournament in the Southern Hemisphere that equates to the Six Nations in Europe. In six matches on a home and away basis New Zealand had a perfect record against Australia, South Africa and Argentina. They scored 262 points and conceded 84, accumulating 30 points that included a six point try bonus. New Zealand beat Australia 29-9 at home which shows the challenge the Lions are facing on this Tour. New Zealand are at number one in the world rankings.
They are statistically and in ability the best team in the world but the Lions now have momentum after beating Chiefs. However, the opposition were a hotch potch of players and not really a good test ahead of the first of the three main events. The Lions dominated the set plays but this match was no more than a gentle work out. The Tour goes up a level with the First Test in Auckland on Saturday and the hosts are tipped to win by more than six points.
The handicap line has been set at 11 but that seems too big. The current Lions squad are about average in terms of quality and seven points is the average winning margin for the All Blacks in the history of this fixture. That means the bet is to back the Lions plus 11 points which covers all the bases other than a dominant home team. New Zealand are good but not good enough to win with plenty of points in hand.