British and Irish Lions Tour: New Zealand v British and Irish Lions 3rd Test Preview

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We preview the series decider between the All Blacks and the British and Irish Lions.

A stoic effort from the Lions and a moment of madness from Sonny Bill Williams have turned Saturday’s Test at Eden Park into one of the most exciting prospects the rugby world has ever waited to witness.

The All Blacks know a loss here would see the population of New Zealand slip into a mass depression while a victory for the Lions would have bars up and down the Home Nations pumping until the wee hours of Sunday morning.

New Zealand v British and Irish Lions | Saturday 8 July | Eden Park | 09:35

To Win (80 Mins)
New Zealand 2/9 | Draw 28/1 | Lions 7/2
New Zealand (-11.5) 9/10 | Lions (+11.5) 9/10

New Zealand
Well, that certainly didn’t go according to Steve Hansen’s plan. An early red card for Blues man Sonny Bill Williams threw a massive spanner in the works for the All Blacks at the Westpac last Saturday. The burly centre went into a ruck with about as much caution as an five-year-old on a sugar rush climbing a tree and paid the price with referee, Jerome Garces, sending the big man to the showers with just over a quarter of the game gone.

Williams’ exit saw Hansen ditch one of his loose forwards and bring on debutant Ngani Laumape. The old adage of ”hindsight being a beautiful thing” comes to mind as the Lions loose trio were able to assert themselves on the game - something they failed to do in the first Test - with the All Blacks a loose forward short.

Look, I’m not having a go at Hansen here as the substitution did seem to make sense at the time, but looking back, one can’t help but feel the man who made way for Williams, Jerome Kaino, was the sort of player you wanted on the pitch in what became a more and more physical affair.

While Williams’ moment of madness was the route cause for the loss, Hurricanes ten Beauden Barrett also needs to shoulder some of the blame. The reigning World Rugby Player of the year had a bit of a ‘mare with the boot missing three very kickable penalties. And while it’s never easy kicking at the Westpac Stadium, you would expect more from Barrett who plays his franchise rugby at the ground.

Looking ahead to this weekend, Steve Hansen has had some tough choices to make over the past five days. Barrett’s struggles off the tee have forced the All Black mentor to look at an alternative kicking option. This has actually worked a treat for the Barrett rugby dynasty as young Jordie Barrett has been handed a start at fullback.

Beauden’s younger brother has taken over the kicking duties at the Hurricanes. And while it is a gamble to hand the youngster a run on debut in one of the most important rugby games ever played by the All Blacks, his assured kicking from the tee could make it worth the risk.

The All Black mentor has made two further alterations to his backline with Julian Savea returning to the starting XV while Ngani Laumape gets a start in the centres.

British and Irish Lions
If you had had to offer Warren Gatland at 2-1 series defeat before the Lions stepped on the plane, I reckon the veteran coach would have bitten your arm off to take it. Let’s be brutally honest here, the Lions were extremely lucky to win last Saturday. Yes, they played with heart but they were a man up for more than 60% of the game and they still struggled to put the hosts to bed.

One area of the Lions' game that wasn’t really tested due to the sending off was their midfield defence. A lot was made of how well the Jonathon Sexton/Owen Farrell axis worked but when you aren’t having to front up on defence your life in the midfield is always going to be easy.

The duo will face a much sterner assignment this week with Ngani Laumape, who is one of the strongest ball carriers in Super Rugby, set to put his head down and run a hell of a lot of crash ball at the 10/12 channel.

Warren Gatland has opted to name an unchanged squad for this weekend’s game. This will be the first time since 1993 that the Lions field an unchanged starting XV for back-to-back Tests. I do suspect Gatland will go to the bench a lot earlier this week with the Lions' grueling tour schedule sure to catch up with them during the final quarter of the fixture.

Verdict: New Zealand 2/9
This is a massive cop out from yours truly but this handicap is in the zone that makes me way too nervous to have a strike either way. The All Blacks will be fired up and they could easily put 20 points over the Lions this weekend but - and this is a Kim Kardashian-sized but were talking about here – there’s rain being forecast for Auckland and a French referee will be blowing the game which will heavily favour the Lions. I’m extremely strong on the All Blacks win but I have no idea how much they will take it by.

Written by Darry Worthington for!

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