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|Third Test: New Zealand v British and Irish Lions|
|Venue: Eden Park, Auckland Date: Saturday, 8 July Kick-off: 08:35 BST|
|Coverage: Live text commentary on the BBC Sport website and app. Listen to post-match reaction on the Lions Social, 11:00 BST, BBC Radio 5 live.|
The British and Irish Lions will unleash new, as-yet-unseen, attacking plays in Saturday’s series decider against the All Blacks, says assistant coach Rob Howley.
The tourists have kept some tactics under cover, according to Howley as they attempt to upset the odds and seal a first series win in New Zealand since 1971.
“We’ve got some plays up our sleeve that we’ve continually worked off the field,” said Howley.
The Welshman, who toured with the Lions as a player in 1997 and 2001, added: “There’s been a glint in their eyes since Wellington and that glint hasn’t gone away because they know they can create history at the weekend.”
|Lions tour fixtures|
|3 June||Provincial Barbarians||Won 13-7|
|7 June||Blues||Lost 22-16|
|10 June||Crusaders||Won 12-3|
|13 June||Highlanders||Lost 23-22|
|17 June||Maori All Blacks||Won 32-10|
|20 June||Chiefs||Won 34-6|
|24 June||New Zealand||Lost 30-15|
|27 June||Hurricanes||Drew 31-31|
|1 July||New Zealand||Won 24-21|
|8 July||New Zealand|
Despite last weekend’s thrilling second-Test victory, the Lions remain underdogs going into the third and final meeting in Auckland.
The All Blacks haven’t lost twice in a row at home since 1998 and haven’t been beaten at Eden Park in 23 years.
However, while the pressure should be on New Zealand following the surprise defeat, the Lions camp has instead appeared on edge in the week, no doubt aware of the magnitude of what can be achieved this weekend.
“I struggle to enjoy it sometimes with the nerves,” says talismanic fly-half Johnny Sexton.
“But it’s once-in-a-lifetime stuff, so you have to cherish it.”
Lions boss Warren Gatland has spoken of the Lions “achieving something special” and “creating a legacy”, but his counterpart Steve Hansen, who used to work in the police force, has denied the game will be a defining one for his side.
“Is the Lions series hugely significant? Of course it is. Will it define this team? No, because there is a heck of a lot more of this story to be written,” says Hansen.
“We are expected to win every Test match, and when we win we are expected to win well. But we are only playing a rugby game. Real pressure is when you’ve got to spend half an hour giving someone CPR and trying to save their life.”
This All Blacks side will take to the field again, regardless of Saturday’s outcome.
But for the Lions, it’s now or never.
Going into the second Test, the All Blacks appeared settled and confident, while it was Gatland and the Lions who were experimenting with selection.
A week later and Gatland has named an unchanged 23, while Hansen has drafted in two rookies in the back line, Ngani Laumape and Jordie Barrett, to deal with a minor injury crisis.
The series started with New Zealand fielding the likes of Sonny Bill Williams, Ryan Crotty and Ben Smith; it finishes with Hansen gambling on youth.
However the forward pack are still bursting with experience, with skipper Kieran Read becoming only the seventh man to win 100 All Blacks caps.
As for the Lions, Howley has spoken of their big-game players, with nine of the 23 featuring in the victorious third Test against Australia four years ago.
The captain that day was Alun Wyn Jones, who on Saturday plays in his ninth consecutive Lions Test, more than anyone else in the professional era.
Wing Anthony Watson is fit to take his place in the side. This is despite being on the receiving end of a shoulder to the head from Williams that earned the New Zealand centre a red card and left the Bath man requiring assessment.
“I remember everything,” said Watson.
“I had to brace myself for it, I guess, but it’s part and parcel of the game.
“He messaged me on Twitter to say there was no intention, and I don’t doubt that.”
While the All Blacks assistant coach Wayne Smith says his side “do a lot of work” on the opposition before big games, the Lions management insist the tourists have been solely focusing on themselves.
“We haven’t even spoken about them,” said Gatland on Thursday.
Either way, the tactical battle between the two sets of coaches will be fascinating.
Hansen et al took the Lions by surprise with their forward-orientated style in Auckland, while despite pre-conceptions, it’s the Lions who have played a more expansive game across the Tests, outscoring the All Blacks by two tries to none in Wellington, albeit with a man advantage.
But would this series be wrapped up already if Williams had stayed on the field at the Westpac? Or have the Lions developed an all-round game plan to shock the All Blacks?
These questions will be answered come Saturday evening.
What they say:
Lions head coach Warren Gatland: “They have the chance to do something special. You have those moments in your life and you don’t want those moments to pass you by.”
Lions captain Sam Warburton: “I can’t imagine any team has better support than the Lions do.”
All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen: “We could win, lose or draw, but we will be a better team for it.”
4 – Number of tries scored by the Lions in the Test series, compared to three by the hosts.
19 – Number of years since the All Blacks lost twice in a row at home.
38 – Number of matches since the All Blacks lost at Eden Park.
56 – Minutes the All Blacks played with 14 men in the second Test in Wellington.
80 – Number of years since the All Blacks lost a series having won the opener.
20,000 – Minimum number of Lions fans expected at Eden Park, about half of the 45,000 capacity.
What the locals say:
“Red Army look to pour boiling oil on Kiwi plebs at Fortress Eden Park” – www.stuff.co.nz
“All the angst of a World Cup final” – Wynne Gray in the New Zealand Herald.
“Bring it home boys!!!” – 2009 and 2013 Lion @jamieheaslip.
“The Lions is alive & well.” – Lions legend @brianODriscoll after the 2nd Test victory.
Lions: Liam Williams (Wales); Anthony Watson (England), Jonathan Davies (Wales), Owen Farrell (England), Elliot Daly (England); Johnny Sexton (Ireland), Conor Murray (Ireland); Mako Vunipola (England), Jamie George (England) Tadhg Furlong (Ireland), Maro Itoje (England), Alun Wyn Jones (Wales) Sam Warburton (capt, Wales), Sean O’Brien (Ireland), Taulupe Faletau (Wales)
Replacements: Ken Owens (Wales), Jack McGrath (Ireland), Kyle Sinckler (England), Courtney Lawes (England), CJ Stander (Ireland), Rhys Webb (Wales), Ben Te’o (England), Jack Nowell (England)
New Zealand: Jordie Barrett; Israel Dagg, Anton Lienert-Brown, Ngani Laumape, Julian Savea; Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith; Joe Moody, Codie Taylor, Owen Franks, Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock, Jerome Kaino, Sam Cane, Kieran Read.
Replacements: Nathan Harris, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Scott Barrett, Ardie Savea, TJ Perenara, Aaron Cruden, Malakai Fekitoa.
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