One last battle to win war
All the hard work put in over the years could mean history for British Lions
All of the frozen toes, mud in the eyes and skinned knees suffered as a child that developed into thousands of collisions and months of rehabilitation from career-threatening injuries comes down to one game for British and Irish Lions captain Sam Warburton.
A series-deciding Test match between the Lions and the All Blacks at Eden Park tomorrow that kicks off at 9.35 (South African time).
“We do appreciate it is the biggest game we have played in,” Warburton said yesterday after practice.
“But that’s what every sacrifice you have made since you were a young kid and decided to be a rugby player is all about, moments like this’” he added.
“All the guys are really excited about it and getting prepared for the big game.”
The magnitude of the ‘big game’ has not been lost on the visitors’ unchanged side, who were involved in what coach Warren Gatland described as a “tetchy” training session yesterday with “words exchanged” between players.
The All Blacks, after all, have lost just one series – in 1971 – to the British combined team since they first started touring New Zealand in 1888.
They last lost successive Tests against anyone at home in 1998 and have not been beaten at Eden Park in 23 years.
Coupled with that, the All Blacks get angry after a defeat. Very angry. “I am definitely expecting a reaction, similar to the one we had in the second Test after the first test defeat,” Warburton said.
“We have got all week to try and get ready for that.
“I think it will be a real STORMERS coach Robbie Fleck doesn’t see the inclusion of the 19-year-old Juarno Augustus at No 7 for their game against the Sunwolves tomorrow as a big call, but rather an “exciting selection.”
Augustus was named Player of the Tournament at the World Rugby Under-20 Championships in Georgia and now, a few weeks later, he will complete the Stormers’ loose trio along with skipper Siya Kolisi at openside flank and Nizaam Carr at No 8.
“I don’t think it is a big call to play Juarno at all. I would proper, epic Test match.”
The All Blacks convincingly beat up the Lions in the collision areas to win the first game 30-15 at Eden Park two weeks ago.
Warburton’s side levelled the series with a 24-21 win last week after they wore down the All Blacks, who had been reduced to 14 men in the 25th minute when Sonny Bill Williams was sent off for a dangerous shoulder charge.
The four-week suspension Williams received created a major backline shake-up for the world champions with coach Steve Hansen naming Ngani Laumape to start his first Test after he came off the bench for his debut last week.
His Wellington Hurricanes teammate Jordie Barrett has also been given a first Test start after he made his debut against Samoa last month off the bench, while Julian Savea has returned on the left wing, replacing the ill Rieko Ioane.
While the changes were out of necessity and something British media have said could be a weakness for the Lions to exploit, Hansen has not been afraid in the past of trusting his gut and giving youngsters the message they should simply impose themselves on the game tomorrow.
“Both of them have pulled the jersey on before so they know what is happening,” Hansen said of Barrett and Laumape.
“It’s the same as every week, go out there and trust your instincts and play.
“If you do that ... then you walk down the tunnel with a lot of confidence in yourself and trust in your teammates ... and that’s what sport is about.
“It’s about trusting your own abilities under pressure and we’ve been pretty good at that over the years.” TEAMS Lions STARTING XV: 15 Liam Williams, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Elliot Daly, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Sean O’Brien, 6 Sam Warburton(captain), 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 Coach: Warren Gatland The British and Irish Lions at training in Queenstown ahead of their third Test against the All Blacks tomorrow. NEW ZEALAND STARTING XV: 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Israel Dagg, 13 Anton Lienert Brown, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Sam 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 Malakai Fekitoa. Coach: Steve Hansen