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7 June 2017 8:35 AM UK & Ireland, 7:35 PM NZ Eden Park, Auckland

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About the match

The 2005 Lions downed Auckland in the final warm-up clash before the third Test but in 1993 the bragging rights went to the province

Match Venue

Eden Park, Auckland

Every year the stadium hosts almost half a million sports fans

"The Blues have some really quality individuals that we will have to take care of but we are excited and looking forward to it."

Warren Gatland Head Coach

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08:35 AM UK & Ireland, 07:35 PM NZ

Preview: Blues v British & Irish Lions

Ken Owens talks to his team during the captain's run at Eden Park

After opening up their Tour with victory over the NZ Provincial Barbarians, the 2017 British & Irish Lions are back in Auckland and will look to make it two from two on Wednesday.

They will be making history against the Blues at Eden Park as the tourists face Kiwi Super Rugby opposition for the first time ever.

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And with the other four franchises waiting in the wings further down the line, starting with the Crusaders on Saturday, Warren Gatland’s side can lay down a marker tomorrow.

Both he and his captain for the clash, Ken Owens, have spoken about building on Saturday’s performance while Gatland is also following through on his promise to give as many players as possible a start early on in the Tour.

TEAM NEWS

It is all change in terms of selection, Gatland bringing in an entirely new starting XV for the Blues.

Owens will captain the new-look side on debut from hooker with Dan Cole and Jack McGrath propping.

Behind that trio, there are familiar combinations for the Lions to rely on. England locks Maro Itoje and Courtney Lawes are paired together, Compatriots Rhys Webb and Dan Biggar are the half-back duo and it is an all-Ireland midfield with Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne.

Owens is joined in the front row by McGrath and Cole while the back row sees CJ Stander start at No 8 with Justin Tipuric on the openside and James Haskell on the blindside.

The back three has Leigh Halfpenny at full-back with England wingers Jack Nowell and Elliot Daly either side.

On the bench Joe Marler, Rory Best and Kyle Sinckler cover the front row with Iain Henderson and Peter O’Mahony completing the pack. The backline cover is made up of Greig Laidlaw, Jonathan Sexton and Liam Williams.

WHAT THEY’VE BEEN SAYING

Warren Gatland, Lions Head Coach, knows the size of the task at hand:

“The Blues have some really quality individuals that we will have to take care of, but we are excited and looking forward to it.

“It was good to get the win under our belts last weekend. The boys in the stand were itching to get their chance and they are really excited about Wednesday.”

Hooker Ken Owens on the honour of leading out the Lions on his debut:

“It’s a massive honour and a challenge that I am relishing on Wednesday night, leading the boys out and hopefully putting a massive performance in that the Lions shirt deserves.

“I always try to put my best foot forward, to try and show the way by the way I play.”

Tana Umaga, former All Blacks captain and Blues Head Coach, on the historic nature of the clash:

“There’s no doubt that this game is going to be a really special day for our players and our club to play against the British and Irish Lions.

“It is something that I experienced as a player and has remained with me.”

OPPONENTS

The Blues might sit fifth out of five in the Kiwi conference in Super Rugby this season – but that only tells half the story.

Tana Umaga’s side have won all but one of their non-Kiwi clashes this season and will be at almost full strength for Wednesday’s clash.

Their starting XV includes eight current or former All Blacks, four in the forwards and four in the backs.

Up front Ofa Tu’ungafasi, James Parsons and Charlie Faumuina make an All Blacks front row while Bristol-bound Steven Luatua starts at No 8.

In the backline, Augustine Pulu starts at scrum-half with Sonny Bill Williams and George Moala in the centres and Rieko Ioane on the wing.

But keep an eye out for 20-year-old fly-half Stephen Perofeta from Wanganui, who makes his starting debut against the Lions.

HEAD TO HEAD – Sonny Bill Williams v Robbie Henshaw

Robbie Henshaw was Ireland’s hero in Chicago last November, crossing for the decisive late score in his country’s first-ever win over the All Blacks.

The Leinster centre was an ever-present during this year’s Six Nations as well, and will make his Lions bow on Wednesday.

In his two clashes against the All Blacks – Henshaw was injured early on in the re-match in Dublin last autumn after Chicago – Henshaw has not come up against Sonny Bill Williams.

Inpho

But after a spell with the New Zealand Sevens set-up and an achilles injury, the dual-code star is back for the Blues on Wednesday hoping to prove his fitness to the All Blacks before the Test series.

A knee injury has hindered his involvement in Super Rugby of late but he has been declared fit for Wednesday’s clash.

And Henshaw will be itching to go up against his childhood hero and put down a marker for the weeks to come.

KEY STAT

Ken Owens becomes only the 25th player in the 129 year history of the Lions to skipper the side on his debut.

Owens is one of 11 debutants in the starting XV on Wednesday – Leigh Halfpenny, Justin Tipuric and Dan Cole are survivors from 2013 while Rhys Webb made his bow off the bench on Saturday.

WHERE IS IT BEING PLAYED

Eden Park, the home of New Zealand rugby and host for two of the Tests against the All Blacks later in the series, is the venue to Wednesday’s clash.

With a capacity of 50,000, the Blues play the majority of their Super Rugby clashes here – they also have fixtures at the QBE Stadium.

The All Blacks have an impressive record on this ground but the Blues in their five games in the ground this year have won two, lost two and drawn one.

REFEREE

Frenchman Pascal Gauzère will officiate the second game of the Tour as the Lions take on the Blues in Auckland.

This will be Gauzère’s first Lions game and he will be joined by compatriot Mathieu Raynal and Angus Gardner who will run the lines. The TMO will be Marius Jonker.

WHERE TO WATCH?

Every game of the Tour will be shown on Sky Sports 1 at 8:35AM BST, 7:35PM local time in New Zealand and live on Radio on Talk Sport

HOW TO GET INVOLVED?  

Follow all the Lions official accounts on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram #AllForOne #BARvBIL






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West strikes late as Blues down unlucky Lions

James Haskell on the charge for the Lions at Eden Park

Ihaia West’s late try gave the Blues a dramatic victory over The British & Irish Lions in the second game of the 2017 Tour.

The boot of Leigh Halfpenny allied to CJ Stander’s first-half try had looked like being enough to secure the tourists a narrow win at Eden Park.

But the Blues – who bookended an otherwise impressive first half from the Lions with two tries – struck late with the irrepressible Sonny Bill Williams to the fore.

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Rieko Ioane had galloped clear early on for the first score but Stander was the beneficiary at the back of a rolling maul and the boot of Halfpenny pushed the Lions to a 10-5 lead in an energetic first-half display.

But on the stroke of the interval Williams dived on a loose ball after a Stephen Perofeta penalty had hit the post to give the Blues a somewhat fortuitous half-time advantage.

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West’s penalty then stretched the Blues’ lead soon after the break but Halfpenny replied with two of his own and the Lions were back in front at 16-15.

However Williams broke clear late on and offloaded to the rampaging West to go under the posts and hand the Blues an historic win.

In contrast to Saturday, the Lions came roaring out of the blocks at Eden Park, building the phases in the Blues 22 with a much-improved tempo.

All Black Williams however proved a thorn throughout, first showcasing his defensive skills with a turnover on the deck and a then rip off Stander.

And having weathered the early Lions storm, it was the Blues who struck first.

Ioane burst clear down the left after Perofeta – making his first start for the hosts – released him with a fine long pass.

The young fly half could not add the extras however and the Lions almost mustered an immediate response – Jared Payne ruled to be just in touch against his former side after the Lions had stretched the hosts’ defence right and then left.

The tourists were clearly in the mood now, superb interplay between Maro Itoje and Justin Tipuric in midfield then released James Haskell through the middle and when a kickable penalty was sent to the corner, the pack got to work.

Twice they forced the Blues to concede penalties on their own line, and after going to the corner again the dam finally broke and Stander barged over at the back of the maul.

Halfpenny added the extras and the Lions high tempo showed no sign of abating, Itoje and Courtney Lawes leading the defensive line and when Dan Cole won a scrum penalty from bang in front Halfpenny deservedly stretched the Lions lead out to five points.

The Lions now looked comfortable, if a tad ill-disciplined, in defence as Ioane had a second score ruled out for offside.

But on the stroke of half-time the heavens opened in Auckland and the gods did not smile on the tourists.

Perofeta’s penalty came back off the post and in the ensuing melee Williams reacted quickest to dot down the loose ball, the TMO ruling that the last touch came off Jack Nowell after lengthy deliberation.

Perofeta could not miss with the extras this time and the home side went in 12-10 to the good.

The first score of the second period was always going to be important and it looked like the Blues had found it when that man Ioane went over in the left corner but a superb cover tackle from Nowell had just forced him into touch.


With Payne then going off, the energetic Elliot Daly was shuffled into midfield and Liam Williams came onto the wing.

Jonathan Sexton had stayed on for Dan Biggar as well, but it was the Blues replacement fly half West who struck next, slotting a penalty to make it 15-10 to the hosts.

Gatland continued to call on his replacements, Peter O’Mahony on for his Lion debut in the back row but the Lions hopes were hit when Williams was shown a yellow card for taking out opposite man Matt Duffie in the air twice in quick succession.

But despite the numerical disadvantage, the Lions rolled up their sleeves and after building the phases – Lawes and Itoje again tireless in attack – won a penalty that Halfpenny slotted.

The Lions now only trailed by two and with their driving maul a constant threat and Liam Williams back in the fray they continued to turn the screw up front.

With an all-new front row they won a penalty and Halfpenny – man of the series four years ago – was nerveless again to put the Lions back in front at 16-15.

However, that man Sonny Bill Williams had the final say with a break and offload and West cut back to go under the posts for a magical score.

The fly-half added the extras himself and while the Lions had their chances in the closing stages, a late lineout went astray on the Blues line and the home side held on for an impressive victory.






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