Momentum is a word that is often talked about in sport but is poorly understood.
It’s something that is considered a cornerstone of physics but when it comes to a team or individual athletes, it can be interpreted very differently by the media and fans.
The current British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand epitomises that misunderstanding.
Consider these quotes, from just over a week ago from the British media after New Zealand’s 23-22 defeat to the Highlanders.
Telegraph writer Mick Cleary said:
“A Lions victory would have been undeserved”.
The Guardian’s rugby scribe Robert Kitson wrote the Lions were lucky the Highlanders weren’t at full strength, while Chris Foy of the Daily Mail said the Lions midweek side just couldn’t match the attacking process of the Highlanders.
Momentum, if there was any, was lost.
Since then? Two wins – 32-10 against the Maori All Blacks and 34-6 versus the Chiefs – have persuaded many to believe a momentum shift. Mick Cleary said the Lions are “beginning to pen an entirely different narrative” and Robert Kitson suggested there was something about the body language of the Lions that “boded well” for the first test.
No physicist would ever admit a momentum change in such short space of time.
All Blacks Ready And Waiting
The British Lions generate passion like no other team when it comes to world rugby. For fans, it’s such a unique experience in sport and it should be championed.
But that’s one of the reasons those in the northern hemisphere can get swept away when it comes to believing success is achievable in the land the sport ranks above all others.
Heard much about the All Blacks’ build up to the Lions Tests? No, didn’t think so. A 78-0 success over Samoa at Eden Park was perhaps expected, but the manner of the second half display – a 50-point procession that saw Steve Hanson’s side score 12 tries all told – was imperious.
Let’s just consider the history of this tour. The Lions have won just one series – in 1971 – meaning that, of the 11 tours, New Zealand have prevailed on ten occasions. And the numbers don’t get any better for Lions supporters when it comes to individual tests.
Of the past 38 that have been played, 29 have been won by the All Blacks with just six Lions victories and three draws.
New Zealand’s Garden Of Eden
The All Blacks spiritual home of Eden Park rarely fails to provide anything but a win for those to celebrate on the Terraces End. New Zealand haven’t lost a test here since 1994 and their line up for the First Test oozes quality.
Kieran Read has recovered from a broken thumb to skipper the side, while Ryan Crotty, following a rib injury, returns at inside centre, which means Sonny Bill Williams shifts to the number 13 shirt.
Elsewhere, the big talking point is Rieko Ioane’s selection ahead of Julian Savea, and while he initially made his name as a centre, his club performances on the left wing have clearly caught Hansen’s eye.
The Lions’ biggest asset will be their ability to build on a solid defence. There is a real belief that perhaps one try will be enough to win the opening game. This will not be the free-flowing rat-a-tat rugby of England’s recent series win over Argentina.
True, the selection by Warren Gatland of Liam Williams at full-back and Elliot Daly on the left wing suggests it won’t all be about the Lions backline, but you sense a war of attrition might still be the best chance the tourists have of winning the opening test.
The All Blacks, though, will be too prepared and too canny.
Patriotic Punts Should Be Played Down
Bookmakers will tell you that their margins are never based on anything as intangible as street talk, rumour and gossip. But there’s no doubt that bettors sometimes scribble their selections on slips purely based on what they want to happen rather than what they believe will occur.
It means that a lopsided book can sometimes force the layers into offering odds they might not normally issue.
This could be the case ahead of the First Test in Auckland.
Given the stats previously listed, New Zealand should surely be shorter than 1/5 to win the match this Saturday. England’s quote of 18/5 looks short of value, while the minus 10.5 handicap mark handed to the All Blacks is hardly likely to start a stampede to back the tourists.
A better bet might to be back New Zealand to win all three tests – a series whitewash trades at 8/13 – such is the dominance I believe we’ll see the hosts exert.
A first test win for the All Blacks will banish any supposed Lions momentum to the sidelines. If you believe they really had any in the first place.
For more Rugby odds, take a look at Grosvenor Sport’s Rugby League betting.
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