Lions on the prowl
Sky Sports presenter Alex Payne is backing the Lions to beat Australia in a closely-fought series
Last Updated: 11/06/13 3:22pm
The two early run outs against the Barbarians and the Western Force were nowhere near the pace or intensity of what is to come, but they allowed a few combinations to be tried and for everyone to ease into the tour. 128 points and 17 tries in two games are an impressive return by anyone's standard, and it has given the squad a solid foundation on which to build.
The first real challenge was against the Reds in Brisbane, and with another new team the Lions came through against one of the form sides in Super Rugby, albeit missing a their front line Wallabies.
It was a game that will have told Warren Gatland a lot. The tempo of the first 20 minutes was extraordinary - and some of the tourists who had not played a lot of rugby recently found themselves sucking in the big ones after only a few minutes.
But the positives shone through - it was the Reds who tired first, thanks in part to the Lions ability to take control of the pace of the game through their forwards. The broken field running looked extremely dangerous - as sharp as anything the Wallabies will throw at them, and the defensive problems are being closed quickly. All in all, things look sharp.
With four serious injuries last week and the concerns over Sexton and Farrell it is not worth going into great detail on the first test yet - there is still too much to sort, but I've had a little look into some of the odds around the series and a few things are worth mentioning.
We have been talking about this series for a year in the office, and over the course of that time I have fluctuated from thinking the Aussies will win 3-0 (currently 8/1) to the Lions completing the whitewash which is 9/4. If you look at the facts in the cold light of day, bolting together men from four countries and sending them to the other side of the world to face the third best team in international rugby, with limited preparation - and then starting them as favourites - seems brave to say the least, and just highlights the emotional impact of the Lions.
And I'm going to stoke those fires. Although the Australian sides are faring pretty well in Super Rugby, the Wallabies won't have a run out prior to the first test so there is a danger of rust and they have also lost some key figures up front - Pocock, Timani and Higginbottom would all have been very likely starters, Polotonau would have brought real impact from the bench.
Robbie Deans' selection hints at safety first, highlighted by the omission of Quade Cooper, but it is worth remembering that there is no international side that has an ability to make as much of their resources as the Wallabies, and they still have enough firepower to win this series twice over.
However, my current leaning is still towards the Lions 2-1, which is 2/1. The continuity that has continued over from 2009 means there is less chat about the 'honour of being a Lion', and an immediate focus on winning the series. Determination has poured out of every interview we've heard from Gatland, and the players understanding of what he wants has clicked quickly.
At the Lions farewell dinner, tour manager Andy Irvine, himself a proud Lion on the 1974 tour to South Africa where the Lions recorded 21 wins out of 22 and drew the last, mentioned the fact that no Lions side has ever returned with a 100% win record. Those are the terms in which the Lions are talking, and interestingly 10 wins out of 10 is available at 5/2.
Early indications are that this will be a series packed with fireworks and, as in 2001, I like the 'Australia and Lions to both score a try in all 3 tests' bet at evens. However, I can't see 4 per test so I'm leaning under 11.5 tries at 5/6.
You can't talk about the Lions at the moment without mentioning the Ashes as well, and for me the Lions winning is the harder part of the equation - the Lions/England double is currently at 11/10.
What a summer in store, and I can't wait to get down there and in the thick of it. More thoughts on the tests to come, but at the moment the Lions look like they're holding a pretty strong hand.