PREVIEW: New Zealand v B&I Lions

Fri, 07 Jul 2017 07:03
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THE THIRD TEST: The British and Irish Lions are hoping a beer and bungee jumping jolly will give them an advantage as they face an edgy All Blacks side in a Test match of historic proportions on Saturday.

So much is at stake for both sides, after the Lions' victory last week put them in a position to clinch only their second series win over New Zealand in 129 years of touring.

With one victory apiece, the All Blacks ramped up training this week to avoid joining the 1971 New Zealand team in losing a series to the Lions.

Reports of scuffles among players during intense training sessions were denied, but flank Jerome Kaino spoke of a "definite edge" in the camp. 

The Lions, by contrast, took time out at the resort town of Queenstown, where they swapped training for a relaxed few days of beers and bungee jumping.

Even when they arrived in Auckland they downplayed their excitement about "the biggest game" of their careers, with captain Sam Warburton saying he was "feeling pretty chilled out".

"It was good to have that break in Queenstown... Right now I won't get too excited until match day. You don't want to waste too much emotional energy over such a big game," Warburton said.

Despite the tourists' laid-back approach, Lions assistant coach Neil Jenkins said they knew the magnitude of the task ahead against a wounded All Blacks side.

"It's a series decider, a World Cup Final, whatever you want to label it as. It's a humongous game. We know how hard it's going to be," Jenkins said.

None of the Lions have played in a World Cup final, while the All Blacks retain six of the starting forwards from their World Cup victory in 2015 - but only two backs, Julian Savea and Aaron Smith.
 
It is the new-look backline that the Lions will be keen to target, with inside centre Ngani Laumape and 20-year-old fullback Jordie Barrett getting their first starts, in only their second Tests.

It is a bold move by coach Steve Hansen, who seems intent on re-igniting the All Blacks' spark and has turned to the Hurricanes, who lead the Super Rugby competition for tries and line breaks.

With Barrett, his flyhalf brother Beauden, Laumape and Savea there will be four Hurricanes in the All Blacks backs.

The forward pack remains unchanged, and that is where the platform will be laid for the outcome of the Test. 

"It's to be a physical Test, it has to be," Hansen said. 

"Every Test match is won up front. We won the first one up front, they won the second one up front, so whoever wins that battle on the weekend will probably have a smile on their face."

History is not in the Lions' favour. 

In 11 previous series, they have only once won the last Test and that was in 1959. The All Blacks have not lost at Eden Park for 23 years, a run of 38 games.

And having won the last two World Cups, including holding on for an 8-7 win in the titanic 2011 final against France, the All Blacks seem to have shrugged off their former reputation as chokers. 

The Lions did, however, take a lot of confidence from the clinical way they came from behind to win the second Test, when their attacking game delivered the only two tries in the match.

Warren Gatland has named an unchanged line-up for the decider, which gives them the ability to mix the astute kick-chase game of Conor Murray with the skills of Owen Farrell should they wish to go wide. 

"We know we've stressed the All Blacks at times and we've scored some great tries," Gatland said. 

"You always want to be regarded as a winner and for us, the focus is on winning on Saturday and winning the series."

Players to watch:

For New Zealand: Fullback Jordie Barrett is one of the exciting new talents at senior level at the moment and his vision on attack and accurate kicking game could give the All Blacks an extra edge out wide. In the midfield, Ngani Laumape has been in fine form for the Hurricanes and his strength with ball in hand will get the All Blacks over the advantage line. In the back row, Sam Cane will have an important job to do at the breakdowns against some aggressive British and Irish Lions players.

For British and Irish Lions: Lock Maro Itoje has been the talk of the town in the last few weeks. The youngster likes to get under his opponents' skin and he is a smart player in the line-outs as well. Loose forward Sean O'Brien is a mongrel in the physical exchanges and his power can disrupt the All Blacks' rhythm. In the backline, centres Jonathan Davies and Owen Farrell will look to expose the inexperience in the All Blacks' backline.

Head to head: Ngani Laumape should keep Owen Farrell and Jonathan Davies busy in the midfield, while flyhalf Beauden Barrett will look to be much more dominant against Jonathan Sexton at Eden Park. The battle between the two second rows at line-out time will also be a keen one to watch.

Recent results: 
2017: B&I Lions won 24-21, Wellington
2017: New Zealand won 30-15, Auckland
2005: New Zealand won 38-19, Auckland
2005: New Zealand won 48-18, Wellington
2005: New Zealand won 21-3, Christchurch
1993: New Zealand won 30-13, Auckland
1993: B&I Lions won 20-7, Wellington
1993: New Zealand won 20-18, Christchurch
1983: New Zealand won 38-6, Auckland
1983: New Zealand won 15-8, Dunedin
1983: New Zealand won 9-0, Wellington
1983: New Zealand won 16-12, Christchurch

Prediction: The match is in Auckland and the All Blacks have not lost there since 1994. However, Steve Hansen's side are missing a few experienced players in the backline and the Lions have become a stronger unit over the last two weeks. The B&I Lions will win this one by seven points or less and win the series 2-1.

Teams:

New Zealand: 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Israel Dagg, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody.
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.

British & Irish Lions: 15 Liam Williams, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Elliot Daly, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Sean O'Brien, 6 Sam Warburton (captain), 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Jamie George, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 Courtney Lawes, 20 Christiaan Stander, 21 Rhys Webb, 22 Ben Te'o, 23 Jack Nowell.

Date: Saturday, July 8
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Kick-off: 19.35 (08.35 BST; 07.35 GMT)
Expected weather: There is a 100 percent chance of showers around kick-off time with a temperature around 10°C.
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant referees: Jérôme Garcès (France), Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)

Agence France-Presse & @rugby365com

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BRITISH & IRISH LIONS
MORE LOGS
Team P W D L Pts
B&I Lions 0 0 0 0 0
Australia 0 0 0 0 0
Barbarians 0 0 0 0 0
Force 0 0 0 0 0
Reds 0 0 0 0 0
Waratahs 0 0 0 0 0
Brumbies 0 0 0 0 0
Rebels 0 0 0 0 0
NSW-Queensland 0 0 0 0 0
Blues 0 0 0 0 0
Highlanders 0 0 0 0 0
Hurricanes 0 0 0 0 0
Crusaders 0 0 0 0 0
Chiefs 0 0 0 0 0
NZ Barbarians 0 0 0 0 0
Maori All Blacks 0 0 0 0 0
New Zealand 0 0 0 0 0