The All Blacks have more than history on their side at Eden Park as one of the biggest matches in the careers of 46-players kicks off later tonight.
It’s the game that World Rugby has been crying out for – but even the most informed of rugby pundits wouldn’t be backing anything other than an All Black victory.
To be completely honest; there isn’t a lot that can be said about tonight’s series decider that can provide much new thought. It’s simple really, the All Blacks are hot favourites to win. Nearly every prediction by pundits and insiders alike suggests the same, and you’d be hard pressed to find someone who suggest that the Lions are in ‘the box seat’.
But before we look forward – we must look back to seven days ago at Westpac Stadium.
The Talking Points That Matter From Wellington
The Lions didn’t win the Second Test in Wellington, they escaped it. Too harsh? Well, it’s hard to say a side that gave away a disgraceful amount of penalties, three of which went unconverted by the usually secure Beauden Barrett, and just managed to escape a red card were the convincing winners.
The All Blacks were pretty terrible themselves, but even with just over a minute to play, Ardie Savea’s charge up the middle of the Lions defense was the sign of a side determined to not give up. Who could blame the All Blacks for their inner self belief? Look at the match against Ireland in Dublin a few seasons ago if you don’t believe me.
Perhaps the crucial moment in the final moments of the Second Test was Barrett’s decision to try a chip kick, with little to nothing on in front of him and deep inside his own 22. A move that has been a ‘go to’ for Barrett and one that’s sparked several successful All Black counter attacks finally was quelled by the opposition.
But at the end of the day, it’s fair to argue that all this is irrelevant now. All that matters is what happens out on the hallowed turf of Eden Park come 7.35pm.
British and Irish Lions Must Target Jordie Barrett
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen stressed throughout the week that tonight’s game isn’t a ‘matter of life and death’; the perfect attitude to have. Hansen has every reason to be comfortable, especially in his back three.
The selection of Jordie Barrett at fullback surprised some, but with Israel Dagg and Julian Savea alongside, the 20-year old will be more than comfortable at the back. It’s important that the Lions kick high balls that are designated for the All Blacks youngster making his first Test start, but only when Savea, and especially Dagg, are not in the vicinity to give support.
The midfield pairing for the All Blacks is also interesting. For the first time in his International career; Anton Lienert-Brown will have all the weight on his decision making alongside Ngani Laumape who comes into this game just a week off making his debut. Lienert-Brown has experienced an average Super Rugby season but has fronted in successful fashion for the All Blacks.
Will this be the biggest Test yet for Lienert-Brown yet? No doubt it will be.
Unchanged Lions Squad The Right Decision
Disregarding any changes to the starting squad was a great move by Warren Gatland; because it does two things.
It rewards those that were successful in Wellington, not the least of which the pairing of Johnny Sexton and Owen Farrell. But it also signals faith, immense faith, that Gatland believes his players can get the job done in the big decider at Eden Park. It will be a further 12-years until the Lions have a shot at puling off a series win against the All Blacks. You’ve got to have all the faith in the world right now.
All Blacks Hot Favourites In DHL Lions Series Decider
For as much as most coaches in World Rugby utter the phrase ‘history counts for nothing’, it most certainly will tonight.
Nearly every time the All Blacks lose, the following week sees an avalanche of points and a lop-sided result. When that following game takes place at Eden Park; you’d almost expect nothing less. Remember what happened in both 2014 and 2015? Bouncing back from a poor result; the All Blacks routed their opposition and both games were over by the 50-minute mark.
If the Lions can defy history and win this series; it will only do World Rugby a gigantic favour. The All Blacks have been the dominant force since 2009; so many sides have tried and failed to break the will of this team, but it’s failed until this point.
If it happens; a series victory for the Lions will be the first since 1971. That’s all that will matter.
“Main photo credit”