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Lions primed to deliver more fluid showing in Auckland

Blues put faith in untested fly-half

Rieko Ioane has ten Super Rugby tries to his name this season
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Sky Sports 1, 8.35am Wednesday

Head coach Warren Gatland cited jetlag and lack of sleep as a factor behind the British & Irish Lions' below-par performance in their tour opener and they face a wake-up call in the first of their five clashes with New Zealand's Super Rugby sides.

The Blues are the weakest of those but are still a significant step up from the Lions' opposition on Saturday, the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians, who stayed comfortably inside a 35-point handicap in a 13-7 defeat.

Four years ago in Australia the Lions were handed double-figure handicaps for their assignments against Super Rugby opposition, although those teams were significantly weakened.

The Blues aren't at their strongest either and the Lions should be better prepared after a week in country.

Hooker Ken Owens, who performed well in all three Tests for Wales in New Zealand last summer, leads an all-new starting 15. But there are some familiar combinations, notably the all-Ospreys and Wales half-back pairing of Rhys Webb and Dan Biggar, so there should be more fluency to the side.

Preparations haven't been the smoothest for the Blues, as they played their Super Rugby fixture on Friday in Samoa, beating the Queensland Reds 34-29 thanks to a last-minute try from replacement fly-half Stephen Perofeta on his debut.

Perofeta has been given his first start in this huge clash for the Lions as Piers Francis, who has become the regular starter at ten, has joined up with the England squad in Argentina. Ihaia West, who was dropped earlier in the season after some shaky performances, is on the bench.

It's a brave call from Blues coach Tana Umaga to go with an untested fly-half in such a huge game but the 20-year-old is clearly talented, and Umaga appears to have a lot of faith in him. He will add a bit of X-factor to the team.

That's not the end of the troubles for Umaga though, as All Blacks centre Sonny Bill Williams was struggling with a knee injury when the team announcement was made and he will be replaced by TJ Faiane if he is not fit to start.

Another All Black sidelined is Jerome Kaino while Patrick Tuipolotu only makes the bench.

The handicap has come down a couple of points since the performance on Saturday and it's worth putting faith in the Lions to deliver a more coherent and positive performance now they have had a little more time to settle.

The Blues like to play a wide game at pace so the Lions must make sure they are able to deal with that, but they have some powerful enforcers in the back row in James Haskell and CJ Stander who will surely do all they can to make Perofeta's day as hard as possible.

It should be a high-scoring game and the Blues are sure to have a say, and the player to focus on is winger Rieko Ioane.

After opening the campaign with a hat-trick in round one the 20-year-old went a little quiet but is right back in form with six tries in his last five matches.

Capped twice by the All Blacks last autumn, the younger Ioane brother made a try-scoring debut against Italy at the age of 19.

Recommendations
Lions -5.5
2pts 10-11 Betfair
R Ioane to score a try
1pt 13-8 Sky Bet

The Blues aren't at their strongest and the Lions should be better prepared after a week in the country
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