After victory in Wellington, there is an overwhelming belief that the British & Irish Lions can defeat the All Blacks once again and claim a series win in Auckland.
The Miracle on Ice. Jesse Owens in Berlin. The Thrilla in Manila.
Some of the most iconic sporting moments of all-time. If the British & Irish Lions defeat the All Blacks this Saturday, this side should be rewarded with the same legendary status. It would arguably be more impressive, defeating a side twice who had previously gone 47 home matches unbeaten.
That said, turning the Kiwis over at Eden Park will be even harder than in Wellington, with the All Blacks unbeaten there since 1994, and it is incredibly unlikely that they will receive another red card this time around. The Lions do have the opportunity, and this is how they can achieve their goal.
Keep your discipline
It was this component that almost cost the Lions the series. Mako Vunipola’s reckless yellow card cancelled out the dismissal of Sonny Bill Williams for 10 minutes, and Lions fans would have thought that the dream was over just 25 minutes to play. The score was 18-9 to the All Blacks at this point, but the visitors somehow managed to dig deep and score a try through Taulupe Faletau with both sides down to 14 men.
Much of the Lions game-plan is to slow down the New Zealand ball, and giving away penalties from time-to-time can achieve this. But, Vunipola and Maro Itoje were the serial offenders in the second test, and coach Warren Gatland will undoubtedly sit them down before the crunch match in Auckland. Yes, the All Blacks didn’t score a try, but giving away 10 kickable penalties cancels it out. If Beauden Barrett had been on song with the boot, the series would be over.
Match the All Blacks’ intensity and physicality
There are undoubtedly the most intense and most physical side in world rugby, so the Lions will have to muster up everything they have one last time to go toe-to-toe with the world champions. The likes of Maro Itoje and Sam Warburton can deliver this in the pack, whilst Johnny Sexton and Owen Farrell will orchestrate things in the back-line.
The Lions perhaps have the edge over the Kiwis on the bench, with Kyle Sinckler, Courtney Lawes, CJ Stander and Ben Te’o all itching to get on.
Lions have continuity on their side
For the first time since 1993, the British & Irish Lions have named the same side for consecutive tests. Even the subs bench is the same, showing how much faith Gatland has in the men that got the victory last weekend, and how well they played in Wellington. Tighten up those errors, and the Lions could be favourites on paper.
The same cannot be send for the All Blacks, who have had to do some shuffling in the back-line. Coach Steve Hansen has made changes at 11, 12, 14 and 15 due to injury, the suspension of Sonny Bill Williams and the incompetence of Israel Dagg at full-back. It will be a massive test for 20-year-old Jordie Barrett, younger brother of fly half Beauden, who will earn just his second cap, after only 14 Super Rugby games for the Hurricanes.
Wet weather suits the visitors
British and Irish players are no strangers to the rain, and the wet conditions in Wellington helped slow down the All Black ball. Conor Murray’s pinpoint box kicking put full back Israel Dagg under immense pressure in the wet, and it is no surprise that the Crusaders man has been moved to the wing.
Rain is due to Saturday afternoon, and if that extends in the evening, it will be a massive task for youngster Jordie Barrett at 15 for the All Blacks. With the pacemen of Elliot Daly and Anthony Watson bearing down on him, it will not be an easy evening for him.
Let us not forget that New Zealand are the favourites, and there is no overwhelming sense of worry from the home side and their fans. They have simply tipped their hat to the Lions, who deserved the victory last weekend, but the All Blacks were a man down for 55 minutes.
The fact that the Kiwis could have won that game is a great testament to them, and simply if the Lions play exactly like they did in Wellington, New Zealand will win the series.
The Johnny Sexton-Owen Farrell axis at 10 & 12 is like nothing the All Blacks have faced before, however. To have two of the best technicians in world rugby in your back-line is incredibly hard to defend against, and Warren Gatland’s risk to drop Ben Te’o to the bench after an impressive performance in the first test has been vindicated.
You don’t beat the All Blacks by playing them at their own game, and the skill of Sexton and Farrell perfectly counteracts their explosive style of play; throw in Conor Murray at scrum half, perhaps the best in the world, and you have a simply world-class 9-10-12 combination.
Despite his slight ill-discipline in the second test, Maro Itoje was still one of the Lions top performers. He is now entering the ‘world-class’ tag frame, and there is no question he will have cemented this over the next 18 months. His dynamism in the second row is like no other, almost acting as an additional loose forward. Courtney Lawes also showed what he can do from the bench, and he is the perfect man to replace the experienced and miserly Alun Wyn Jones with 20 minutes to go.
Both Neil Jenkins and Sean Fitzpatrick have billed the third test as a ‘World Cup Final’ and the competitiveness in this series has certainly put Lions rugby back on the map. The victory over Australia four years ago was almost expected, with the Wallabies struggling during that period, but a series victory over the All Blacks is almost unheard of.
Not since 1971 have the Lions claimed a series win in New Zealand, and the Kiwis have not lost twice in a row since 2011. Few favoured a Lions series win before the tour, but it is now a realistic possibility, and going down in history is within the Lions grasp.
Michael Phelps’ strikes eight. The Rumble in the Jungle. The Perfect 10. The Lions shock the Kiwis?