So, after all the talk, disappointment, hype and – last week – joy, the decider is upon us. Surely New Zealand won’t screw this up, but the Lions have momentum following their victory last week in Wellington.
The Lions ensured last weekend that the third test would be the clincher for either team following the 24-21 victory against the world’s best and this now puts enormous pressure on the All Blacks, who will, of course be without Sonny Bill Williams following his sending off last week after a dangerous challenge on Anthony Watson.
So with Williams out, Ngani Laumape comes in for this first ever All Blacks start, but the hosts will also be without Ryan Crotty, who has picked up a hamstring injury.
However, the Lions will be unchanged – the first time it’s happened since 1994, meaning playmaking partnership Johnny Sexton and Owen Farrell will be retained in the XI. Wales’ Sam Warburton will skipper the side, and fellow Welshman Liam Williams will too, having shaken off an injury concern. He’ll be at full back.
There’s been a lot of talk throughout the tour from both bosses and there’s nothing Warren Gatland would love more than to beat his home nation on their own patch to win the series, but he’ll be mindful that New Zealand have already beaten the Lions in game one at this venue and haven’t lost at Eden Park since 1994.
However, pressure does funny things and there’s no doubt the natives – and the majority of the world – will be expecting the hosts to earn the win they need this weekend.
Despite the positivity and hope surrounding the Lions ahead of this one, it’s been six years since the All Blacks suffered two consecutive defeats, added in with that imperious Eden Park record and the home support behind them, it’s clear to see the challenge in front of the Lions on Saturday.
Confidence in the camp will be high and there will be much more belief in the squad than there was soon after they touched down in New Zealand and played poorly in some of the warm up games.
The Two Teams…
NEW ZEALAND: J. Barrett, I. Dagg, A. Lienert-Brown, N. Laumape, J. Savea, B. Barrett, A. Smith, J. Moody, C. Taylor, O. Franks, B. Retalick, S. Whitelock, J. Kaino, S. Cane, K. Read.
THE BRITISH & IRISH LIONS: L. Williams, A. Watson, J. Davies, O. Farrell, E. Daly, J. Sexton, C. Murray, M. Vinipola, J. George, T. Furlong, M. Itoje, A. Wyn Jones, S. Warburton, S. O’Brien, T. Falatau.
What We Sayin’?
Well we wrote the Lions off last week prior to them producing the near-impossible in defeating the All Blacks last week and look how that worked out. It’s such a tough one to call, we’re going by the stats, meaning we’re just about edging with New Zealand for the weekend win, and with it, take the series. A New Zealand winning margin of between 6-10 points would be our shout at 9/2.
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