It’s an unchanged side, as expected, for the Lions. You never change a winning side really.
The guys performed exceptionally well last week. Two tries to nil against the mighty All Blacks so they’ll be very focused and driven. They’ll want to go for the jugular and it’s a great opportunity for the Lions, especially with a French referee and the interpretations from the southern to the northern hemisphere. That could be a tricky one with the penalty counts and so on.
However, it’s not about the referee, it’s about the two sides and the All Blacks will be vastly improved on last week. Beauden Barrett, by his own admission, didn’t excel with the boot. He missed three very kickable kicks which could have meant the All Blacks would have won. Subsequently the Lions took the scalp and that was a great win. It kept the series alive and that’s great for spectators and neutrals alike.
It goes down to the wire and Warren Gatland’s going to instill that hard edge approach, that physical confrontation. There were question marks about whether the Lions were offside on a number of occasions with their defensive line, however, you deal with what’s in front of you and the All Blacks will really need to be improved this week.
Losing Sonny Bill Williams was a massive blow to them and playing with 14 men for three quarters of the game was obviously telling towards the end. But they still stuck at it so that’s testament to how good they are.
But the Lions have a great chance. They have the two kicking options at 10 and 12 with Johnny Sexton and Owen Farrell. I was surprised that Ben Te’o wasn’t starting the second Test, however, they performed well, created opportunities and there were a couple of line breaks and two well-worked tries for the Lions, which was very impressive.
The All Blacks, as I said though, will be improved. Their defensive qualities will step up a gear. As you know they’re not a side that will lay down and die. They’re very formidable in the breakdown area where Sean O’Brien and Sam Warburton imposed themselves, so they’ll be looking at that and looking to take these guys off and out of the ruck area to stop them causing too many problems. The breakdown area’s going to be massive today. And you’re probably going to see a New Zealand side flying out of the blocks.
I have to say that the Lions have been excellent with their performances, with their defensive qualities and they’ve created chances. Their line breaks were brilliant last week, they were a bit more clinical than they have been, which is great to see. Hopefully we can see a bit more of that.
There’ll be a bit more kicking too.
It’s going to be one hell of an explosive game and I’m looking forward to it immensely. It’s a tough call. It will be very, very close but I predict New Zealand will steal it. 24-18 to the All Blacks.
They’re going back to Eden Park which is a fortress for New Zealand rugby so it’s going to be a humdinger. Fireworks, what an atmosphere. I’d love to be down there, wearing the red and shouting for the Lions.
Coach Warren Gatland named an unchanged team for the Test series decider against the All Blacks on Saturday, sticking with the side that edged a 24-21 win in Wellington.
Gatland said the players who levelled the series against the back-to-back world champions deserved a shot at winning the tourists’ first series in New Zealand since 1971.
“We felt we should reward the players for the result and the courage that they showed in coming from behind from 18-9 down, digging themselves out of a hole and then finishing strongly in that last 10 to 15 minutes,” he said.
Gatland said the All Blacks would be hurting after their first home loss in eight years and the Lions would have to improve again if they wanted to make history.
“We are all aware of how big this game is and we are expecting a backlash from the All Blacks,” he said.
“But the pleasing thing about the second Test is just how strong we were in the last 10 or 15 minutes in terms of energy and enthusiasm, so we still feel there’s another level in us.”
LIONS (15-1): Liam Williams (Scarlets/WAL); Anthony Watson (Bath/ENG), Jonathan Davies (Scarlets/WAL), Owen Farrell (Saracens/ENG), Elliot Daly (Wasps/ENG); Johnny Sexton (Leinster/IRL), Conor Murray (Munster/IRL); Taulupe Faletau (Bath/ENG), Sean O’Brien (Leinster/IRL), Sam Warburton (capt, Cardiff/WAL); Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys/WAL), Maro Itoje (Saracens/ENG); Tadhg Furlong (Leinster/IRL), Jamie George (Saracens/ENG), Mako Vunipola (Saracens/ ENG)
REPLACEMENTS: Ken Owens (Scarlets/WAL), Jack McGrath (Leinster/IRL), Kyle Sinckler(Harlequins/ENG), Courtney Lawes (Northampton/ENG), CJ Stander (Munster/IRL), Rhys Webb (Ospreys/WAL), Ben Te’o (Worcester/ENG), Jack Nowell (Exeter/ENG)
Fledgling international Jordie Barrett will start at fullback for New Zealand in the third Test against the British and Irish Lions in Auckland on Saturday as the All Blacks turn to rookie power in a backline shake up for the series decider.
Barrett’s Wellington Hurricanes teammate Ngani Laumape gets his first Test start after making his debut 25 minutes into last week’s second Test when Sonny Bill Williams was red-carded.
Blockbusting wing Julian Savea wins a recall after failing to even make the bench in the first two Tests while Israel Dagg moves from fullback to wing to accommodate Barrett.
Second Test wings Waisake Naholo and Rieko Ioane have been dropped following the Lions 24-21 victory to level the series in Wellington last weekend.
Barrett, the younger brother of fly-half Beauden and lock Scott Barrett, only has 17 minutes of Test experience after taking the field as a replacement late in the All Blacks run away win over Samoa before the Lions series began.
With the Lions battling to win a series against New Zealand for only the second time, the deciding final Test “is going to be a cracker,” Hansen said when naming his line up Thursday.
“It now comes down to this Saturday — the winner takes all — and that’ll create its own unique pressures and it’s going to be interesting to see how both sides cope with it.”