New Zealand have the chance to secure a series win over the British and Irish Lions at the first attempt when they face off in Wellington.
After showing their clinical edge in last weekend’s game at Eden Park, the All Blacks are now 80 minutes away from popping the champagne. Few expect there to be a series decider in Auckland but the Lions will push hard to silence those doubters at a wet Westpac Stadium.
Yes, rain is forecast for Friday and Saturday in Wellington and that could play into the Lions’ hands, particularly as team changes see Warren Gatland opt for Jonathan Sexton alongside Owen Farrell at 10 and 12. That means that along with Conor Murray at the base, they have solid options that include the left boots of Jonathan Davies and Elliot Daly. Expect the tourists to put boot to ball more than the first Test.
Much has been made, however, of the decision to drop Ben Te’o, arguably the Lions’ best performer from last week, down to the bench. Te’o stood up admirably against Sonny Bill Williams, but Gatland has rolled the dice and is gambling on creativity over carrying in Wellington.
Sam Warburton has also made his way into the side at the expense of Peter O’Mahony while it’s George Kruis who cops the axe to allow lock Maro Itoje his start. There’s impact aplenty on the replacements bench meanwhile which, unlike on Tuesday, will be unleashed in its entirety.
The All Blacks too have made changes, although theirs were enforced due to the absence of Ben Smith and Ryan Crotty. That means the chief destroyer of the Lions for the Highlanders, Waisake Naholo, comes in, as does Anton Lienert-Brown, with both high-class internationals.
Once again it’s a fascinating prospect that awaits this Saturday at the Hurricanes’ home, with only one of their players, Beauden Barrett, starting in black. He again should have a big say in the game while Ardie Savea, TJ Perenara and Ngani Laumape are primed to make an impact.
New Zealand blew the British & Irish Lions away with their quick thinking in Auckland and despite the coaches’ calls not to switch off at any moment against the world champions, somehow the All Blacks caught them napping. That simply has to be avoided if the Lions are to prevail.
But even if the Lions do improve in the top two inches it is hard to envisage the All Blacks to be quite so loose in their defence as they were last week. They too will improve seven days on, which is a frightening prospect, but one the neutral and this game will could well benefit from.
2017: New Zealand won 30-15 in Auckland
2005: New Zealand won 38-19 in Auckland
2005: New Zealand won 48-18 in Wellington
2005: New Zealand won 21-3 in Christchurch
1993: New Zealand won 30-13 in Auckland
1993: British and Irish Lions won 20-7 in Wellington
1993: New Zealand won 20-18 in Christchurch
New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (c), 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 Ngani Laumape
British & Irish Lions: 15 Liam Williams, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Elliot Daly, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Sean O’Brien, 6 Sam Warburton (c), 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 CJ Stander, 21 Rhys Webb, 22 Ben Te’o, 23 Jack Nowell
Date: Saturday, July 1
Venue: Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Kick-off: 19:35 local (07:35 GMT)
Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)
Assistant Referees: Romain Poite (France), Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)