THE MONEY MAN is betting on the Lions to win Saturday's Super Rugby semi-final at Ellis Park.
Last week, in the mighty concrete jungle, the Lions roared and tore apart the Crusaders, who I correctly predicted stood no chance against what is proving to be the best team in the tournament.
The Lions are the Rodney Dangerfield of rugby – they get very little respect from the bookies and again I believe they offer tremendous value this week. I have searched high and low to figure out why the betting is so close. Maybe I am overlooking something they know that I don’t! After all, they are the professionals.
The Highlanders were fortunate last week, but I did say they find ways to win games and seldom blow anyone out. That proved the case against a Brumbies team that really is not all that good.
The Lions must be licking their chops at the chance to pounce on the Highlanders, who should not offer much resistance after the month of travelling they have had.
Here are my top five reasons why the Lions will win with ease this Saturday at Ellis Park:
1. Start believing and stop doubting how good this Lions team really is. They are the top point-scorers in the tournament (a points difference of 200 over their 15 conference games is immense) and they have scored 24 more tries than the Highlanders. According to SARugbymag.co.za's Opta-powered stats, the Lions have run 1,650m more than the Highlanders, and their attacking style is fantastic, which explains why they beat 10 more defenders per game than the Highlanders.
2. Last week, the Lions laid down a serious marker and made an emphatic statement by blowing away the Crusaders. They achieved this not only with wonderful attacking rugby, but they were immense in defending their tryline. This victory will have only added to a team brimming with confidence. The Lions play for each other and have a magic chemistry that Mr Ackermann has brought out in them. They fear no one.
3. The Highlanders are a good side but if they are relying on kicking the ball away to a team with a trio of players who have each dotted down nine times, then it could be an onslaught. This Lions team loves to play with ball in hand and will do so with ease. What I enjoyed last week was the intelligence they played with and how they kicked for position when needed. It shows they learned from their losses to the Crusaders and Hurricanes earlier in the year.
4. It is an old cliche but true – the team that makes the least mistakes usually wins and a well-rested, confident, settled team awaits the Highlanders. In fact, the Highlanders in July have travelled over 45,000km and spent over 100 hours in doing so. That, my friends, is not an insignificant amount of travelling. Such is the insanity of this tournament – why would one even attempt such a thing. Sure, they will try to remedy the effects of such a hectic schedule, but the reality is the body can only take so much and if there are mistakes being made on Saturday I believe they will come more from the Highlanders, and who could blame them. For them to win, it will take a superhuman effort, the likes of which I have not seen before.
5. This game is being played at Ellis Park, a place that still holds an allure as a fortress to the Kiwis. The last time I checked it's still well above sea level and if the Highlanders didn’t have enough to contend with, then the last 20 minutes of this match will test every resolve they have.
I am up for the year – R14,000 of 56% on my initial investment. As most of you know, I donate all winnings to charity and for that reason I am not going to go crazy. In fact, I cannot anyway, as World Sporting Bet has decided to cap my bets (which I think is disgraceful behaviour), so I will put R2,000 on the Lions for an outright win. It will return R1,500 plus my stake. I am also going to take a punt of R500 that the Lions win by 16 or more. It pays 6/1 and if it comes in, it will pay R3,000 plus my stake back.
Photo: Martin Hunter/AFP Photo