New Zealand vs British & Irish Lions Test III Preview
Last updated: July 7, 2017 by Leon Marshal
|Kick-off:||Saturday, 08:35 (GMT)|
|Venue:||Eden Park, Auckland|
|Coverage:||Sky Sports, Sky Sports HD|
|Fixture type:||Test Fixture|
|Home team odds||1/4|
|Away team odds:||7/2|
After an enthralling test in Wellington last week, where the Lions stumbled over the finish line to record a narrow 21-24 victory over the hosts, the series will now be decided tomorrow evening in the fortress that is Eden Park as the tourists go in search of another rare victory on New Zealand soil and look to etch their names into rugby folklore. The final fixture, which in itself is lined with a number of sublots with All Blacks captain Kieran Read winning his 100th test cap, Beauden, Jordie and Scott Barret becoming the first trio of brothers selected for an All Blacks squad and the Lions playing what may be their last ever test in New Zealand with the future of the tour being brought into question, is quickly shaping up to be the test match of the ages.
The fairy-tale-like scenario that every British & Irish Lions fan would have been dreaming of has come to pass, with a winner-takes-all decider the only way to separate the two sides after what has been a long and gruelling tour. No one can deny that the Lions were handed a bit of a lifeline last week as Sonny Bill Williams was shown a red card for a shoulder charge on Anthony Watson in the 24th minute, which forced the home side play the majority of the game with 14 men. Nevertheless, victories against New Zealand occur once in a blue moon, and even more seldom do they occur on New Zealand soil: the Lions will take a victory against the defending world champions any way they can. The tourists must, though, be careful not to take too much heed from the hype and hysteria coming from the travelling Lions fans. The more sobering reality is that when the All Blacks were at full complement in the first test the Lions were duly outplayed and outmuscled, and even when down to fourteen men the tourists made excruciatingly hard work of their victory, with a last-gasp penalty being the final deciding factor. Warren Gatland will be working hard with Graham Rowntree to try and tighten up the scrum as this was an area where New Zealand made some real gains in the first quarter last week, whilst also preparing his side for an almighty physical confrontation.
Much of the talk surrounding the All Blacks this week has been about how all the pressure now seems to be building in the home camp. Head coach Steve Hansen has been forced into changes he would have never normally have considered for a game of this magnitude after injuries to Ryan Crotty and Ben Smith in the first test, along with the absence of Sonny Bill Williams due to a reckless red card in the second, have seen him field an unexperienced backline. Specialist winger Julian Savea of 54 caps and 46 tries has been recalled toreplace the young Rieko Ioane and add some stability as his hurricanes teammates, Ngani Laumape and Jordie Barrett, combine at inside centre and fullback respectively for their first starting test caps. Despite fielding an untested backline, Hansen won’t be too worried as the Barrett-Savea-Laumape-Barret Jr. combination has been used to devastating effect in this year’s Super Rugby campaign, with the two new rookies also having impressed in the Lions warm-up games.
Following Sonny Bill Williams’ 4-week ban after a shoulder charge on Anthony Watson Ngani Laumape has been handed his first test start at number 12. He’s joined by his Hurricanes teammate Jordie Barrett at fullback, who’s also winning his first starting test cap.
Julian Savea, who’s uneven form in the domestic league saw him fail to make the initial squad, has been recalled back onto the left wing to win his 54th cap. The prolific winger has a remarkable try-scoring record, dotting down a total of 46 times in his career.
Warren Gatland has named an unchanged side to take on the All Blacks this weekend. This is the first time since 1991 that the same side has been named in conseuctive tests; they’ll be hoping that the momentum from last week’s victory will be enough to get them over the line.
Alun Wyn Jones will be making his own bit of history this weekend as he prepares to start his 9th Lions’ test match in a row. Saturday will see him surpass Brian O’Driscoll’s record of 8 consecutive appearances for the Lions. Ex-England international and world cup-winner Matt Dawson now holds the record for the third most appearances with seven.
|New Zealand:||Moody, Taylor, Franks, Retallick, Whitelock, Kaino, Cane, Read, Smith, Barrett, Savea, Laumape, Lienert-Brown, Dagg, Barrett|
|Subs:||Harris, Crockett, Faumuina, Barrett, Savea, Perenara, Cruden, Fekitoa|
|Not available:||Sonny Bill Williams|
|British & Irish Lions:||Vunipola, George, Furlong, Jones, Itoje, Warbuton (capt), O’Brien, Faletau, Murray, Sexton, Daly, Farrell, Davies, Watson, Williams|
|Subs:||Owens, McGrath, Sinckler, Lawes, Stander, Webb, Te’o, Nowell|
The Final Word
The final scenario that many hoped for, but few thought was likely, will be played out tomorrow evening at the home of New Zealand rugby, Eden Park. The All Blacks have not lost a test there since 1994 and haven’t suffered back-to-back defeats since 2011: that is the size of the task facing the British & Irish Lions. If they are successful, they will be remembered alongside the legendary touring side of 1971, the only team that has managed to win a Lions series in New Zealand in the 129-year history of the tour. The bookmakers, however, have the All Blacks down as favourites, and we tend to agree. Not only is history on the side of the men in black, but their ability to bounce back from defeat – as rarely as they occur – is unparalleled and their affinity to execute the basics even under the most intense pressure has been proven time and time again. It will be close, but we’re going for an All Blacks victory with a margin between 6-10 points. Top prices are currently showing at BetVictor.