Brumbies embarrassment will have Lions all fired up for first Test glory

PATRICK CALLAGHAN PREVIEWS THE FIRST LIONS TEST TOMORROW AND CASTS HIS EYE OVER WIMBLEDON

WARREN Gatland’s criticism of the quality of provincial sides the British and Irish Lions were facing on tour came back to bite him in spectacular fashion on Tuesday when the Lions were humbled 14-12 by the ACT Brumbies in Canberra.

That was the Lions’ first defeat to provincial opposition in 16 years and the first time in 42 years an Australian non-Test side had beaten them. And it’s hard to argue the underdogs didn’t deserve a famous victory. Right from the start it was clear the pumped up Brumbies wanted it more, words echoed to that effect by stand-in captain Rory Best who admitted afterwards: “We didn’t turn up”.

The side have now missed out on a chance to go into the history books as the first touring party to return home undefeated and the fact they failed to score a try in a non-Test match for the first time since 1977 has given Australia hope they can upset the odds ahead of the first Test tomorrow morning.

Before Tuesday’s debacle I had been impressed with Gatland’s men and, although they had beaten very little, the manner of their victories had been striking. Last week’s 47-17 triumph over NSW Waratahs not only landed our handicap bet in convincing fashion but made the 3/1 on offer for a Lions clean sweep Down Under look generous.

The lazy performance in Canberra was exactly that; lethargic, sluggish and listless, but I’m prepared to forgive that and back the Lions to overcome a three point handicap at 10/11 with Coral.

The Wallabies’ lack of match practice is a serious concern and they haven’t played as a unit since December 2012. Even then only six members of this squad lined up that day and, although Robbie Deans’ team have been training since June, it’s hard to know what to expect from them.

They also have serious injury problems in their forward line with Scott Higginbotham, Sitaleki Timani, Tatafu Polota-Nau, David Pocock and George Smith missing from the entire series. Winger Joe Tomane is also out of tomorrow’s game and I expect the Lions to win the physical battle and deny the tricky Australian backs space. The Lions also have the edge in the kicking department with Leigh Halfpenny in good form.

It was an experimental side that lined up against the Brumbies and Gatland will start a totally different XV tomorrow. Quite simply, they should have too much class and skill for a rusty Australian team that are yet to beat the Lions in six previous Tests in Brisbane.

That 10/11 on the Lions with a -3 handicap looks a very good bet and I’m buying the Lions’ supremacy at 4 with Sporting Index. Australia also look a good sell on the spread betting firm’s performance market at 48.

The hosts would need to win and win well to get anywhere near that quote and that looks unlikely.

■ Pointers…
Lions with a -3 handicap at 10/11 with Coral
Buy Lions’ supremacy at 4 with Sporting Index
Sell Australia’s performance at 48 with Sporting Index