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Preview: New Zealand v The British & Irish Lions
The British & Irish Lions are back in Auckland and looking to create history against New Zealand in the third Test decider on Saturday at Eden Park.
The All Blacks have an impressive winning record there – including victory in the first Test a fortnight ago – but in Wellington last week the Lions hit back.
Owen Farrell’s late penalty has given the tourists some serious momentum – and on Saturday it is all on the line as the Lions chase a first series victory in the Land of the Long White Cloud in 46 years.
After that thrilling victory in the Westpac Stadium Head Coach Warren Gatland finds himself in the fortunate position of selecting the same 23.
Indeed, 12 Lions have started all three Tests in this series and that includes Mako Vunipola, Jamie George and Tadhg Furlong, who will all start in the front row once more.
Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton are the half-backs, Owen Farrell and Jonathan Davies are in midfield – the latter starting his sixth Test in a row for the Lions – and the back three is made up of Anthony Watson and Elliot Daly with Liam Williams at full back.
Courtney Lawes will look to add his trademark impact from the bench again, as will Jack Nowell, Jack McGrath and Kyle Sinckler who all won Test caps last weekend and there might be time for Rhys Webb, CJ Stander, Ken Owens and Ben Te’o who all remained unused last week in Wellington.
WHAT THEY’VE BEEN SAYING
Head Coach Warren Gatland on his side’s mental approach to the titanic tussle:
“You get those moments in your life and you don’t want those moments to pass you by, that is what big occasions and big sporting events are about.
— British&Irish Lions (@lionsofficial) July 5, 2017
“You have got to be excited, it is a pressure that you relish. This is what you do all the training, you want those moments and sometimes they don’t come around that often.
Captain Sam Warburton on how much winning the series would mean to him:
“It is definitely the biggest challenge we have had in all of our careers including previous Lions tours, World Cups, Six Nations and all the big games in Europe the lads have been involved in.
“It’s a massive, massive team effort, and so if we win it, it definitely will be up there as the pinnacle of our careers.”
Jonathan Sexton on being picked once again to face the All Blacks:
“To get picked again for another Test is great for everyone involved and now it is all about gearing up to try and bring our best performance of the Tour so far – and we feel that is what we are going to need if we are going to get the win.
“We will have learned a bit from last week and we can take it up a level, we feel we need to go up another level to beat them at Eden Park, that is the bottom line and a great challenge for us to try and get better again, and if we do it will be pretty special.”
Steve Hansen has re-jigged his back line this weekend, in part by choice and in part by necessity as the All Blacks look to hit back and defend their home ground.
Ngani Laumape will fill the void left by Sonny Bill Williams at inside centre after the latter’s red card in Wellington.
Hansen also hands Jordie Barrett his first start for the All Blacks at full-back and will play with his older brother Beauden, who starts at fly-half.
Not long to go before kicking practice here @edenparknz.
— British&Irish Lions (@lionsofficial) 6 July 2017
Israel Dagg will shift to the right wing with Julian Savea returning on the left with captain and No 8 Kieran Read winning his 100th cap.
The pack remains the same for a third Test running, with the four Crusaders of Owen Franks, Codie Taylor, Joe Moody and Sam Whitelock joined by Brodie Retallick in the tight five and Read with Jerome Kaino and San Cane in the back row.
On the bench is the recalled Malakai Fekitoa with Aaron Cruden, TJ Perenara and Ardie Savea all hoping to add impact if called upon.
HEAD TO HEAD – Taulupe Faletau v Kieran Read
With all the hype surrounding this clash on Saturday, it has almost gone unnoticed that skipper Read will win his 100th All Blacks cap this weekend.
The No 8 – a two-time World Cup winner – is already in the pantheon of All Black greats but victory this weekend could cement his legacy.
He has returned from a thumb injury with consummate ease, running the show in the first Test win and running himself into the ground as the outmanned All Blacks nearly squeezed out a victory in the second Test.
But up against him has been one of the Lions stand-out men of this Tour, Wales’ Taulupe Faletau – a try scorer in Wellington and an 80-minute man in all five of his appearances so far.
Their clash could be seismic this weekend as both packs look to get the upper hand in the third Test.
The British and Irish Lions have an 88 per cent succession rate at the lineout over the two Tests compared to the All Blacks 74 per cent.
And kicking practice is underway here @edenparknz!
— British&Irish Lions (@lionsofficial) 7 July 2017
Warren Gatland’s side have also produced more tackles a game, 152, than the hosts, 85, during the series.
WHERE IS IT BEING PLAYED?
The Lions have already sampled Eden Park twice on this tour, losing to the Blues and the All Blacks in the first Test.
The home of New Zealand rugby was founded in 1900 and is the country’s largest and most iconic ground.
The first Lions Test in Auckland was in 1908 at Potter’s Park, and 22 years later the men in red made their Eden Park bow.
The stadium has hosted several large events, including the 1992 Cricket World Cup and 2011 Rugby World Cup final – where New Zealand edged past France to claim the title.
Roman Poite will be the man in the middle of the British and Irish Lions’ third Test against New Zealand.
The Frenchman refereed the final game of the tour to Australia in 2013 when a 41-16 victory over the Wallabies sealed a 2-1 series win.
He has also refereed one of the Lions match this Tour, taking charge for the warm-up game against the Hurricanes earlier in the current tour, which ended in a thrilling 31-31 draw.
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
Dramatic draw at Eden Park means series is shared
Heading into the final quarter of this enthralling encounter at Eden Park the scores were tied at 12-12 – a fitting end for a topsy-turvy clash and indeed series.
The first half had been a tale of All Black wastefulness, Ngani Laumape and Jordie Barrett both crossing for tries on their first Test starts but really it could have been much more as the hosts dominated proceedings.
But the Lions stood up terrifically in defence and two penalties from Owen Farrell meant they only trailed 12-6 at the break.
Elliot Daly then smashed over an effort from his own half to trim the lead further soon after the break and when Jerome Kaino saw yellow for a high tackle, the Lions were level as Farrell continued to have ice in his veins.
The stage was set for a thrilling final quarter and it was Beauden Barrett who looked like he had won it when the All Blacks won a penalty at scrum time.
But Farrell then stood firm and his long-range effort fell over the bar to set up a nerve-shredding last three minutes that the Lions somehow survived to earn a draw that will live long in the memory.
After last weekend’s reversal in Wellington, the All Blacks wanted to make a statement early at Eden Park but in a first half of stunning physicality, the home side were not their usual clinical selves.
In the early stages Beauden Barrett missed a penalty from bang in front while Julian Savea then knocked on with the line begging after the Barrett brothers had combined to break through.
Having ridden the early storm it was the Lions – with Maro Itoje prominent and Daly rising well under the high ball – that looked to be on the verge of the first try before Farrell compounded a nervy first quarter with a long pass that was picked off with the try line begging.
The impressive Jonathan Davies then made a superb covering tackle to chase down Laumape but the All Blacks were not as wasteful this time and the first try duly arrived – and it was made in Wellington as three Canes combined – Beauden’s cross-kick to brother Jordie who batted the ball down for Laumape to go over.
This time Beauden Barrett was spot on with the conversion but Farrell’s first penalty got the Lions on the board not long after when Davies’ clever kick had earned some territory.
Back came the All Blacks though in a first half that continued to astonish with its frenetic pace and when Savea burst through a second try looked iron-clad but Sam Cane knocked on from the next phase.
The Lions blushes were being spared time after time as the All Blacks pack were churning out yards that their backs were wasting – Beauden Barrett and Laumape the next two to knock on deep in the Lions 22.
Jonathan Sexton – aside from one missed touch – was catching the eye for the Lions in attack, carrying hard to the line while Alun Wyn Jones was immense in defence and after Davies made a great read to crunch the younger Barrett the Lions could finally relieve some pressure and Farrell’s second penalty trimmed the lead to 7-6.
Sexton and Sean O’Brien were slight injury worries with half time approaching, the former with an ankle problem and the latter a shoulder and the All Blacks deservedly pounced soon after, Laumape’s wondrous break and offload releasing Anton Lienert-Brown and he put the younger Barrett over in the corner.
This time his older brother could not add the extras and the Lions could count their blessings to only be six points down at the interval.
And that deficit got even smaller straight after the break – with CJ Stander on for O’Brien but Sexton continuing – when Daly smashed one over from his own half to make it 12-9.
Still the All Blacks failed to make their chances count in the second period, Savea called back for a forward pass from Jordie Barrett and the Lions were visibly growing in confidence while the hosts looked nervous.
Kaino then went high on Jones to earn himself a yellow, Courtney Lawes introduced for the latter as a result, and the Lions had half an hour to go and a man advantage for ten of them.
Sexton was back after a check up for Ben Te’o but the All Blacks, as they did last weekend, were making light of their numerical disadvantage, Liam Williams’ break pulled back for a forward pass.
But just before the hour mark and the return of Kaino, Brodie Retallick was punished for a high shot and Farrell made no mistake from distance to level the scores.
— British&Irish Lions (@lionsofficial) July 8, 2017
The final quarter of this third Test was thrillingly poised, an apt way to round off an incredible Tour of this country.
Beauden Barrett’s clever kick to the corner then put the All Blacks on the front foot but another knock-on halted their momentum after a huge tackle from Taulupe Faletau.
Warburton then had to go off bringing Jones back into the fray but when Kyle Sinckler was pinged at scrum time in front Beauden Barrett could not miss and the All Blacks were in front again with less than 13 minutes left.
Warburton was back on for the final ten minutes and the Lions finally got some reward when Rhys Webb won a breakdown penalty and Farrell did the rest.
Carnage ensued from the re-start as the All Blacks looked like they had won a kickable penalty but the TMO and Romain Poite opted for a scrum and while the All Blacks were knocking at the door, in the end the Lions held on.
That meant a drawn series, the first since the 1955 Lions in South Africa, and an epic ending to the 2017 Tour of New Zealand with Kieran Read and Warburton sharing the trophy on the podium. in Auckland.