The British & Irish Lions hope to secure a first series win over New Zealand in 46 years when the teams face off in Auckland on Saturday.
New Zealand were odds on to take this series 3-0 before the tour began in June and from the first two games it appeared the Lions were in for a testing month in the southern hemisphere. A tight win over New Zealand’s Provincial Barbarians and a loss to the Blues was worrying.
Admirably though they’ve improved match by match with solid defence the bedrock of stifling teams such as the Crusaders, Maori All Blacks and most recently New Zealand. But just how much we can read into that poor All Black showing remains the main topic leading to Saturday.
Despite being minus Sonny Bill Williams from the 25th minute, the hosts increased their lead to 18-9 by the hour mark until the momentum swung dramatically to the Lions. Cue tries from Taulupe Faletau and Conor Murray before Owen Farrell sealed a win the neutral had craved.
What that result in Wellington offers the masses is the mouth-watering prospect of a do-or-die clash, at a venue that New Zealand haven’t lost a game at since 1994. The odds are stacked against the Lions but some feel the tourists have rattled both the Kiwi players and coach.
To nil the All Blacks in terms of tries – red card or not – takes some doing, as the 39 teams who had tried previously failed to achieve. Therefore it’s no surprise that Warren Gatland has stuck with his hand from last week and rolled out the same matchday 23 for this clash.
New Zealand, in contrast, have made changes to their line-up as Ngani Laumape comes in for the suspended Williams while Julian Savea and Jordie Barrett take over from Rieko Ioane (illness) and Waisake Naholo (concussion). That pair though could have paid the price for last week and the fact Barrett’s brother, Beauden, had an off day with the boot. It therefore wouldn’t be a shock to see Jordie with the tee.
The All Blacks cannot be as poor as last weekend and their much talked about backlash is expected, with the breakdown battle again set to prove decisive in who comes out on top. Aaron Smith was silenced in Wellington and much of that was due to Sam Warburton and Sean O’Brien.
Unlike at Westpac Stadium though the weather forecast is much more promising and that will delight New Zealand at their fortress. Yes, the Lions can play expansive rugby but they would much prefer similar conditions to last week as they look to “leave a legacy” as Gatland puts it.
There’s little doubt that legendary status would be achieved if the Lions can do what was viewed as highly unlikely before they landed in New Zealand. While it’s a tough ask against this wounded All Black side, anything can happen in 80 minutes, as we saw just seven days ago.
For New Zealand: The three players called into New Zealand’s side, Ngani Laumape, Julian Savea and Jordie Barrett, will be determined to make the shirt their own in Auckland. Laumape and Barrett are long-term options for the All Blacks after solid Super Rugby seasons, while Savea has an opportunity to prove the selectors wrong after he was replaced by Rieko Ioane ahead of the series opener. Laumape’s carrying and Barrett’s creativity from the back will be vital to the All Blacks, with the latter helping take some of the pressure off his brother.
For British & Irish Lions: As mentioned he was nuisance at the breakdown last week and the Lions need Sam Warburton to again be a headache to the All Blacks on Saturday. Alongside Sean O’Brien and Taulupe Faletau, the tourists boast a wonderfully balanced back-row trio and if they can win their battle with their opposites, the Lions stand a chance of claiming a memorable series triumph. Elsewhere and of course Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton need to stamp their authority on the game from a management point of view while Owen Farrell is key.
Head-to-head: Speaking of the centre, the midfield battle is an intriguing one as Ngani Laumape and Anton Lienert-Brown collide with Owen Farrell and Jonathan Davies. Davies has been excellent of late, as he made good metres in the first Test and was rock solid in the second, forming a well balanced partnership with Farrell. This week they face the dynamic Laumape, who they will look to test early in such a big game, and Lienert-Brown, who knows halting Davies’ carries and looking to click with a new midfield partner will be vital at Eden Park.
2017: British & Irish Lions won 24-21 in Wellington
2017: New Zealand won 30-15 in Auckland
2005: New Zealand won 38-19 in Auckland
2005: New Zealand won 48-18 in Wellington
2005: New Zealand won 21-3 in Christchurch
1993: New Zealand won 30-13 in Auckland
1993: British & Irish Lions won 20-7 in Wellington
1993: New Zealand won 20-18 in Christchurch
Prediction: They came close to winning with 14 men last week and at fortress Eden Park, it’s a home win for us. New Zealand by 12.
New Zealand: 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Israel Dagg, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody
Replacements: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Aaron Cruden, 23 Malakai Fekitoa
British & Irish Lions: 15 Liam Williams, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Elliot Daly, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Sean O’Brien, 6 Sam Warburton (c), 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Jamie George, 1 Mako Vunipola
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 Courtney Lawes, 20 CJ Stander, 21 Rhys Webb, 22 Ben Te’o, 23 Jack Nowell
Date: Saturday, July 8
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Kick-off: 19:35 local (07:35 GMT)
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant Referees: Jérôme Garcès (France), Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)
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