New Zealand v British & Irish Lions: Talking points ahead of series decider
By Jack Wilkinson
Last Updated: 08/07/17 6:12am
The British and Irish Lions' tour of New Zealand reaches a tantalising climax with the third and final Test deciding the outcome of the series.
Ahead of the winner-takes-all clash at Eden Park, live on Sky Sports, we ponder five talking points...
All Blacks backlash
There is only one thing more dangerous than the All Blacks in world rugby and that's an All Blacks side smarting after defeat.
Defeat is not compatible with New Zealand psyche and the glint in the eye of captain Kieran Read as he graciously conceded defeat at full-time in Wellington indicated one thing - the Lions must be prepared for a backlash.
Since 1904, the All Blacks have lost back-to-back home Tests on just four occasions, the latest of which coming nearly two decades ago against South Africa and Australia in the 1998 Tri Nations.
Having felt the wrath of a wounded New Zealand side following Ireland's victory in Chicago, prop Tadhg Furlong is under no illusion of the task that lays ahead of the Lions.
"That match in Dublin was one of the most brutal Test matches I've played in my short career," he said. "We all expect to have the same thing again. We've got to tee ourselves up for it."
What about the weather?
While Owen Farrell kicked the decisive penalty, and Maro Itoje received the post-match plaudits, the influence the weather played on the Lions' series-levelling victory in Wellington was underplayed to an extent.
Torrential rain and driving wind - typically British weather - prevented the 14-man All Blacks from getting out of jail following Sonny Bill Williams' dismissal, with the arduous conditions preventing Beauden Barrett from converting three gilt-edged penalties to wrap up the series.
With pristine conditions suiting an All Blacks side that are lethal with ball in hand, the pre-match forecast of the thunderstorms in Auckland will come as a welcome boost for the Lions.
On what's set to be an electrifying evening, both on and off the pitch, whoever adapts quickest to the conditions could well have the advantage.
Unchanged Lions to become legends?
Despite calls for the odd tweak here or there, Warren Gatland has kept faith in the 23-man squad which delivered the Lions' first Test victory in New Zealand since 1993.
While there can be no complaints with the burgeoning Johnny Sexton-Owen Farrell axis being handed another chance to shine, Gatland's decision to overlook the indiscipline of Mako Vunipola has raised a few eyebrows.
With the prop's four penalties and sin-binning so nearly costing the Lions the series in the second Test, all eyes will be on Vunipola to vindicate his selection.
But with the would-be alterations brushed to one side, Gatland's decisive team selection has allowed his squad to focus on the job at hand. Tour victories in themselves are hard to come by but a series win in New Zealand is the stuff of folklore - just ask the boys of 1971.
Should the Lions turn the two-time world champions over in their own back yard, we'll have another group of legends on our hands.
Beware of New Zealand's new-boys
Jordie Barrett and Ngani Laumape have been thrown into the cauldron for the third and final test, with the pair set for their first All Blacks starts on the biggest of stages.
With Sonny Bill Williams suspended, the inclusion of Hurricanes bulldozer Laumape retains the midfield presence needed against Sexton and Farrell. The selection of Barrett at full-back, meanwhile, addresses the issues Israel Dagg has had under the high ball, while adding extra bulk to a new-look backline.
Few, if any, will have foreseen the Lions outscoring the All Blacks by four tries to three with one Test remaining, but that is how things stand ahead of Saturday's decider. Barrett's creativity goes some way to addressing this, as too does the inclusion of Julian Savea, in place of the ineffective Reiko Ioane.
Savea returns for the first time since June's mauling of Samoa, where he crossed the whitewash to move second on the All Blacks' try-scoring charts.
With just three tries needed to move level with Doug Howlett, and with a point to prove, Savea could prove to be the dangerman.
Good omens for the Lions?
There's no denying the pace and, on occasion, the result of a Test match owes much a team's ability to play within the referee's interpretation of the game.
The All Blacks operated clinically within southern hemisphere official's Jaco Peyper approach in the first Test, while the Lions excelled under the jurisdiction of Jerome Garces in Wellington to level the series.
Having officiated in the Lions' final midweek game against the Hurricanes, Frenchman referee Romain Poite will run the rule over the third and final Test.
While Poite is by no means a pushover, play the referee well and the Lions could take a giant stride towards a series victory. Whether that will be enough to counteract the All Blacks' formidable form at Eden Park, though, is another matter.
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