This coming Saturday, British and Irish Lions fans will relive 1993 all over again; a test series tied at 1-1, and the decider to be played at Eden Park.
Following an indifferent tour so far this summer, the Northern Hemisphere side have given themselves the opportunity to put themselves in the history books with only one other Lions side; defeat the All Blacks in a test series.
Such position that the Lions find themselves in has led to former All Blacks coach, Sir Graham Henry, to pay Warren Gatland the ultimate show of respect by tipping the current Lions boss to be a future All Black coach:
“Warren’s done a great job in getting them all together and he’s possibly a future All Blacks coach…
“The All Blacks are currently the world champions and ranked number one in the world, so to beat the All Blacks at home with a side which has had very little rugby together would be an astronomical achievement.”
— Sir Graham Henry, former All Blacks coach
Such praise is likely to be embraced by Gatland who has had a tough time in the Kiwi press; being depicted as a clown by the New Zealand Herald, and branded as ‘desperate’ by All Black coach, Steve Hansen.
However, such criticism will all be in vain for the All Black press if the Lions can manage the unthinkable and clinch a series victory on Saturday.
To do that, the Northern Hemisphere side are going to have to play significantly better than they did in Wellington. They just about got over the line playing against 14-men, and had the weather/inaccurate boot of Beauden Barrett to thank.
Relying on such elements will only end in defeat in Auckland, as the All Blacks never make the same mistakes twice.
To therefore stand a chance, the Lions must improve their discipline; for that to happen, Mako Vunipola should be dropped from the final test. The prop gave away far too many penalties, as well as being sin binned in the second-half; captain, Sam Warburton, naturally directed criticism towards the Saracens man in his post-match interview:
“We gave away far too many penalties in the second half. The one disappointing thing was the discipline but to score a try out wide shows we were willing to play a bit.”
Vunipola’s ill-discipline and inconsistent scrummaging should see Jack McGrath start the final test over the Sarries man. To then have the big impact from Vunipola coming off the bench could provide a valuable weapon for the Lions.
Although Alun Wyn Jones made a marked improvement from his first test, there still seems a big call in the second row selection; Courtney Lawes was once again outstanding off the bench, and his impact can not be argued against. The physicality the Northampton man brings, and speed at the breakdown will be crucial in Auckland; the Englishman is fully deserving of a first test start over the safer option of Jones.
The introduction of both men would provide more stability in the set-pieces, and would also hopefully lower the penalty count. It will be the fine margins which win the game on Saturday, as these slight two tweaks to the XV could make the difference in who takes victory on this Lions tour.