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Friday, 18 January, 2019

Lions can take charge early on against Chiefs

Back Stander to deliver a try

CJ Stander of the Lions in action against the Highlanders
1 of 1

Sky Sports 1, 8.35am Tuesday

Forewarned should be forearmed for the British & Irish Lions in Hamilton on Tuesday morning and they look worth backing at 11-8 to claim a victory over the Chiefs after leading at the break.

A year ago, Lions head coach Warren Gatland's Wales team were hammered 40-7 by a mix-and-match Chiefs outfit at Waikato Stadium on a Tuesday between their first and second Tests against New Zealand.

The Lions have already suffered midweek defeats to the Blues, the worst-performing Kiwi Super Rugby side, and a much-weakened Highlanders outfit. They know there are no easy games.  

However, morale in the Lions' camp must have been lifted by their 32-10 win over the Maori All Blacks on Saturday and they are four-point handicap favourites for this assignment.

While Gatland has clearly decided that none of this squad will start Saturday's first Test against New Zealand in Auckland, there will be a clarion call to perform in order to make compelling cases for inclusion thereafter.

Full-back Liam Williams and left-wing Elliot Daly are probably still duelling for the utility-back spot on the Eden Park replacements bench. Centres Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne, skipper for this match Rory Best and number eight CJ Stander have not done much wrong if they do miss out as expected.

The rest of the Lions' starting team are all high-quality performers, who are being bedevilled by untimely bumps and uncharacteristic errors and have probably been hindered by Gatland's need to give certain players time on the pitch and assess various combinations.

There will be no tinkering in Hamilton and the demand will be for more of the discipline and intensity that was seen in their wins over the Maori All Blacks and the Crusaders.

This Lions scrum should be solid with props Joe Marler and Dan Cole comfortable with their binding and height from England matches, while Iain Henderson, Courtney Lawes, Justin Tipuric and Stander are excellent line-out catchers and disrupters.

Stander, Tipuric and third back-rower James Haskell are all visible presences at the breakdown, rolling maul and in support of open-play bursts. Indeed, Stander is worth a wager to add to his touchdown against the Blues.

Scrum-half Greig Laidlaw and fly-half Dan Biggar have the kicking games to pin back the Chiefs. Biggar has been enterprising on this tour and set up Jonathan Joseph's try against the Highlanders. Right- wing Jack Nowell was a star in Exeter's surge to the Premiership title last month. 

Ten players who got the cowbells ringing in the Hamilton crowd a year ago are in Dave Rennie's home selection, including 2011 World Cup-winning fly-half Stephen Donald, locks Dominic Bird and Michael Allardice and back-rowers Mitchell Brown, Lachlan Boshier and Tom Sanders.

Bird, tight-head prop Nepo Laulala and outside centre Tim Nanai-Williams are all internationals, while former All Blacks Hika Elliot and Liam Messam are on the bench after their weekend work for the Maori All Blacks in Rotorua. Boshier and replacements Aidan Ross and Luteru Laulala made their presence felt for the Provincial Barbarians in the tour opener.

However, the Chiefs are unlikely to be anywhere near as cohesive as their outfits who won the Super Rugby title in 2012 and 2013 or the team who are in the playoffs for a sixth straight year after losing only two and drawing one of their 14 games.

They are without six All Blacks, Japan skipper Michael Leitch and three of the defeated Maori. They have a few injuries too.

Starting hooker Liam Polwart and scrum-half Finlay Christie are rookies at Super Rugby level so may feel the heat at the set-piece and at the breakdown.  

Lions-Lions double result
1pt 11-8 Betway
CJ Stander to score a try
1pt 23-10 bet365

The Chiefs are bereft of six current All Blacks, domineering Japan skipper Michael Leitch and three of the defeated Maori
E.W. Terms
Sky bet