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Preview: New Zealand v The British & Irish Lions
At a raucous Westpac Stadium, with the sea of red in full swing, the Lions are looking to turn the tables, just like they did against Australia in 1989.
Saturday night in Wellington is set to be a wet one and it is sink or swim time for the Lions.
Gatland has made three changes to his starting XV, with Sam Warburton coming into the back row and taking the captaincy from Peter O’Mahony while Maro Itoje starts in the second row.
In the backline, Owen Farrell slides to inside centre while Jonathan Sexton starts at fly half, with Ben Te’o poised to make an impact from the bench.
Warburton’s inclusion means he starts the second Test alongside compatriot Taulupe Faletau and Ireland’s Sean O’Brien in the back row.
— British&Irish Lions (@lionsofficial) June 30, 2017
The second row sees Itoje paired with Alun Wyn Jones while the front row is maintained from the first Test, Mako Vunipola, Jamie George and Tadhg Furlong to start.
Conor Murray and Sexton resume their half back pairing while Farrell joins Jonathan Davies in midfield.
The back three of Anthony Watson, Elliot Daly and Liam Williams are given another chance to impress after their superb counter-attacking ventures in the first Test.
The bench shows a number of new faces, with CJ Stander, Courtney Lawes and Jack Nowell hoping to add impact alongside Te’o, Rhys Webb, Ken Owens, Kyle Sinckler and Jack McGrath.
WHAT THEY’VE BEEN SAYING
Warren Gatland on the size of the task in front of his side:
“It is a big challenge for us. As coaches and player,s we know that the series is on the line.
“A lot of the players have spoken about it being the biggest match of their careers.”
Sam Warburton on his recall to the starting XV:
“I really didn’t know what was going to happen. I thought some guys played absolutely brilliantly on Tuesday and could have come straight into the Test team, which we saw happen last week.
“I was very nervous but I am delighted to be starting in the Test series.”
Andy Farrell on what is on the line:
“We are playing the best in the world in their own backyard and they are 1-0 up and we need to win – it doesn’t get any bigger than that.
“We will see what we are made of.”
Steve Hansen on another potential classic:
“It’s got all the earmarks of being another great Test and that’s what we’re here for.
“Our game is way more important than all of us and if we can produce the game that has ebbs and flows in it, we’ll get more people excited about watching it and more people involved in it, and our game stays alive.”
The world champion All Blacks have made two injury-enforced changes to their starting XV after the first Test.
Ben Smith and Ryan Crotty are both out so in comes Waisake Naholo on the right wing, with Israel Dagg moving to full back while Anton Lienert-Brown comes into midfield.
— British&Irish Lions (@lionsofficial) June 30, 2017
The pack remains the same, with the four Crusaders of Owen Franks, Codie Taylor, Joe Moody and Sam Whitelock joined by Brodie Retallick in the tight five.
The back row of Jerome Kaino, Sam Cane and skipper Kieran Read remains, with Aaron Smith and Beauden Barrett the half back pairing.
Sonny Bill Williams re-links with Lienert-Brown after their impressive showing against Samoa a fortnight ago while Dagg and Naholo are joined by two-try hero from the first Test Rieko Ioane in the back three.
The bench is the same as the first Test, except that Ngani Laumape – a try-scorer for the Canes on Tuesday against the Lions in their thrilling draw – is No 23.
HEAD TO HEAD – Conor Murray v Aaron Smith
Aaron Smith was the heartbeat of the All Blacks’ powerful display in the first Test, the scrum half’s crisp delivery putting his side on the front foot throughout.
And it was the No 9’s quick thinking that laid on the first try for Taylor after a quick tap penalty, and the Lions will need to contain the Highlanders half back if they are to have a chance in the second Test.
Conor Murray – a Test Lion four years ago in Australia – is his opposite man and the Munster scrum half will be hoping to turn the tables, as he did in November last year.
The Ireland international was sublime as Ireland downed the All Blacks in Chicago and his box kicking has been a key feature of the Lions’ best wins on this Tour.
The Lions have come from behind to win a three-Test series twice in their history – in 1989 and 1899.
The All Blacks have not lost in Wellington since England visited there in 2003 but this Lions starting XV side contains eught Test Lions who downed the Wallabies in the decider four years ago, including back row pair O’Brien and Faletau.
WHERE IS IT BEING PLAYED?
The Westpac Stadium – nicknamed the ‘Cake Tin’ – opened its doors in 2000 as it replaced the historic Athletic Park, the scene of memorable Lions victories over the All Blacks from 1971 and 1993.
Built at a cost of NZ$130 million with a capacity of 34,500, it is a multi-purpose venue and is home to the Hurricanes Super Rugby franchise and the Wellington Mitre 10 Cup team, while it has also hosted the Welllington Sevens, as part of the World Rugby Sevens Series.
It’s the eve of the second Test!
— British&Irish Lions (@lionsofficial) June 29, 2017
It also hosts football, with Wellington Phoenix of the Australian A-League calling it home since 2008, and cricket, with Wellington Firebirds taking part in New Zealand’s T20 competition.
The list of sports doesn’t stop there as six rugby league internationals have taken place on its turf, including the 2014 Four Nations final, while it is also a major concert venue.
The stadium is also notable for film director Peter Jackson using the chanting of the crowd for a New Zealand v England cricket ODI in 2002 for The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.
The Lions have strutted their stuff here already on this Tour, playing out a dramatic 31-31 draw with the Hurricanes last Tuesday.
They also played twice here in 2005, with their first visit producing a 23-6 victory over Wellington, thanks to tries by Gethin Jenkins and Gareth Thomas.
The second Test also took place there, with the Lions being defeated after Gareth Thomas’ early opening try, with All Blacks fly-half Dan Carter in dazzling form.
Jerome Garces is the man in the middle for the second Test, the Frenchman taking charge of his second game on this Tour after also refereeing the Lions’ win over the Chiefs in Hamilton.
Jaco Peyper, referee in the first Test, is a touch judge alongside Romain Poite, who will take charge of the third and final encounter. The TMO is George Ayoub.
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 Lions comeback levels the Test series
Second-half tries from Taulupe Faletau and Conor Murray had brought the Lions back into a game it looked like they were going to throw away and Farrell made no mistake in the 77th minute to send the tourists back to Auckland level in the three Test series after a 24-21 victory.
Three penalties each from Beauden Barrett and Farrell meant the two sides went in level at the break in a first half marked by a red card for Sonny Bill Williams for a no arms tackle on Anthony Watson – the first All Black to be sent off in 50 years.
But after the interval it looked like the Lions were going to let a golden opportunity slip as ill-discipline plagued them – Mako Vunipola shown a yellow card – and Barrett turned the screw from the tee.
But after the hour-mark the Lions made their advantage count at last – as Faletau and Murray both went over for well-worked tries and when Farrell added the extras to the second one the game was level heading into the final ten minutes.
And in the 77th minute Kyle Sinckler was tackled in the air and the stage was set for Farrell to hand the All Blacks their first loss on home soil since 2009.
Still stinging from last weekend’s first Test defeat, the Lions came roaring out of the blocks seeking to make amends – Alun Wyn Jones with an enormous first up tackle while his second row partner Maro Itoje was everywhere.
The Wales lock spoiled an early All Blacks lineout in the wet weather while both back threes were being put to the test in an aerial bombardment.
But Itoje also knocked on when an early Lions attack was gathering momentum – Farrell and Jonathan Sexton dovetailing nicely in midfield – as the clinical edge was still lacking for the tourists.
And Barrett – having hit the post with an early range finder – gave the home side the lead soon after with a penalty won by the front row at scrum time.
Farrell’s response was almost immediate, Brodie Retallick offside at a breakdown nearly halfway and the England playmaker banging over a nerveless long-range effort.
Having levelled things up, the game’s decisive moment arrived soon after – Williams shown a straight red by Jérôme Garcès after consultation with the TMO for a no arms tackle to the head of Watson.
That prompted an immediate reshuffle from Steve Hansen, Jerome Kaino withdrawn for Ngani Laumape as the centre came on for his Test debut while Anton Lienert-Brown was packing down at flanker at scrum time.
But the Lions struggled initially to make the most of the numerical advantage and when Murray failed to roll away it was Barrett who put the hosts back in front at 6-3.
Itoje helped regather the re-start however, and Farrell slotted his second penalty straight away to restore parity.
Overly keen to press home their advantage, the Lions were their own worst enemy as half-time approached – Sexton kicking dead while Mako Vunipola was pinged at a breakdown to allow Barrett to restore a three-point lead.
But before the interval the Lions scrum finally began to earn some dominance to put them on the front foot and although Watson could not quite gather Murray’s clever cross-kick, advantage was being played and Farrell sent the two sides in level at 9-9.
After the break the hosts continued to play smart with 14 men, Laumape carrying hard in midfield but Barrett missed a penalty from in front to give the Lions a reprieve.
Although it was only temporary as a Murray high tackle then gave the fly half another go and he made no mistake to make it 12-9.
The Lions defence was water-tight, indeed it took until the 50th minute for them to miss a tackle, but they could not get a foothold in the second half.
The All Blacks were doing well to take the sting out of the game and although Barrett missed another kick, he also slotted one to make it 15-9 as Itoje and Vunipola in particular struggled with their discipline.
And it got worse before the hour-mark, a dangerous clearout on Barrett earning a yellow card for Vunipola and the fly half twisted the knife to make it a two-score game at 18-9.
Reinforcements arrived soon after for the Lions, Courtney Lawes the first to be introduced and the Lions immediately responded.
What a game in Wellington!
— British&Irish Lions (@lionsofficial) July 1, 2017
From lineout ball off the top, Sexton wrapped around to release Watson down the right and when the ball came back left, Liam Williams fed Faletau who showed great power to brush off Israel Dagg and go over.
Farrell’s conversion was off-target but the Lions were back in it, trailing only 18-14 until replacement Sinckler went offside and Barrett did the rest to make it a seven-point game with 15 minutes remaining.
But once again the Lions dug deep and after Jamie George’s initial burst from Sexton’s pass made inroads it was Murray who sniped over from close range for their second try of the half.
Farrell’s conversion sailed over this time and the Lions were level at 21-21 with ten minutes left.
And after Sinckler was tackled in the air on the charge by Charlie Faumuina, Farrell made no mistake from in front of the posts and the Lions held on to secure a famous victory, their first over the All Blacks in 24 years.
— Iain Balshaw (@iainbalshaw) July 1, 2017