The time has arrived for the British & Irish Lions to stand up and be count in a final decisive Test against reigning World Champions New Zealand.
Warren Gatland’s troops enter one final foray believing they have already discovered a recipe for success and with the teams level at 1-1 the Lions are being urged to create history after the Kiwi-born coach retained faith in the same starting XV that set the platform for last week’s 21-24 triumph.
Although sticking with a winning formula may appear on the surface inevitable, selecting a Lions side for a pivotal final is never routine, as Gatland displayed by dropping Brian O’Driscoll at a very delicate point in Australia back in 2013. This is the first time since 1993 the Lions have kept the same XV for consecutive Tests.
Liam Williams, who missed training as a precaution before the Lions returned to Auckland from Queenstown, is named at full-back while Mako Vunipola has kept his starting place at loosehead prop despite conceding numerous penalties last time out.
Jonny Sexton and Owen Farrell continue their 10-12 partnership, while flanker Sam Warburton is out to become the first Lions captain to preside over successive winning tours.
Gatland has challenged his squad to make history. “This is a huge chance for this group of players to show their abilities and reap the benefits of the work everyone has put in,” said the head coach. “It is their chance to make Lions history. We are all aware of how big this game is and we are expecting a backlash from the All Blacks.”
New Zealand, meanwhile, have added some muscle to their backline, with the 20-year-old Jordie Barrett coming in at full-back for only his second cap and the prolific Julian Savea back on the left wing instead of Rieko Ioane.
TEAM NAMING | Kieran Read set for 100th Test in series decider against @lionsofficial at Eden Park.
— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) July 5, 2017
The All Blacks, whose captain Kieran Read is set to make his 100th Test appearance, have not lost at Eden Park since 1994 and have not been beaten in a series by the Lions for 46 years.
New Zealand have lost only five times in 71 Tests under head coach Steve Hansen and were convincing 3-0 series winners when the Lions last toured in 2005.
All the statistics are piled up against the Lions, but those same figures sat in New Zealand’s favour last time around, yet the prospect of another game-changing red card is unthinkable.
The All Blacks are out for revenge and will stop at nothing short to retain pride and status as the world’s greatest.
We spoke with BoyleSports’ Leon Blanche to get his expert views on the final test
Even though The Lions won last week they are still 4/1 and I don’t think anything has been lost that we played against 14-men for much of the game.
The Lions showed plenty of endeavour and belief to come through the match.
The handicap is at 12 for New Zealand, but we are at a stadium they just don’t lose at and there will be a reaction from then, no doubt about that and there is a danger The Lions might have peaked and we know it is going to be very difficult but I am not so sure New Zealand will cover the handicap.
A popular bet for us, is a lot of people are going for New Zealand to win between 1-12 which is available at 7/4.
We were happy for our customers that our double winnings for five points or less win came in last week.
TGT PREDICTION: New Zealand by 10. While momentum seems to sit with Warren Gatland’s British & Irish Lions, the unthinkable just seems too untouchable against a riled All Blacks desperate for retribution.
British & Irish Lions: 15 Liam Williams, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Elliot Daly; 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray; 1 Mako Vunipola, 2 Jamie George, 3 Tadgh Furlong, 4 Maro Itoje, 5 Alun Wyn, 6 Sam Warburton ©, 7 Sean O’ Brien, 8 Taulupe Faletau
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 Courtney Lawes, 20 CJ Stander, 21 Rhys Webb, 22 Ben Te’o, 23 Jack Nowell
New Zealand: 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Israel Dagg, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Julian Savea; 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith; 1 Joe Moody, 2 Codie Taylor, 3 Owen Franks, 4 Brodie Retallick, 5 Sam Whitelock, 6 Jerome Kaino, 7 Sam Cane, 8 Kieran Read ©
Replacements: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Aaron Cruden, 23 Malakai Fekitoa