Date: Saturday, July 8
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Kick-off: 19:35 local (07:35 GMT)
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant Referees: Jérôme Garcès (France), Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)
The British and Irish Lions have the opportunity to stamp their names into rugby folklore with victory over New Zealand on Saturday.
Last week’s 24-21 triumph for the Lions in Wellington set-up a deciding Test in Auckland few would have expected after the world champions' dominant victory at Eden Park seven days earlier.
Not since 1998 have the All Blacks lost back-to-back Tests on home soil, surely this Lions’ side can’t do the impossible, or can they?
Again the bookies don’t give the Lions much hope and, although it hurts me to say it, I have to agree.
New Zealand, 2/9 (general) to wrap up the series, have won their last 38 matches at Eden Park stretching back to 1994 and outplayed and outclassed the Lions in the first Test.
But Warren Gatland’s side turned the tables at the Westpac Stadium and are now a best-price 4/1 (BoyleSports, BetStars) to do what few predicted, and clinch their first series win over the All Blacks since 1971.
Gatland, who has retained the same 23-man squad for the decider, was portrayed as a clown in the New Zealand press in the build-up to last week's game but turned into a magician as his decision to play Johnny Sexton instead of Ben Te’o at centre, alongside Owen Farrell, was well and truly vindicated.
The Lions did just about deserve their victory. Obviously, Sonny Bill Williams’ dismissal was a crucial factor in their success, but the fact that the All Blacks failed to score a try for the first time in 39 games was significant and proved that Gatland had got his tactics spot on.
His side were also aided by Beauden Barrett having an off-day. The All Blacks’ No 10, who was flawless in the first Test, seemed to feel the pressure and missed three relatively straightforward kicks at goal, which proved crucial and meant his side were never able to kill off the Lions.
Even with the man advantage, and Barrett’s misfiring boot, the Lions did their best to hand victory to the All Blacks as their lack of discipline resulted in 13 penalties. A similar lack of control this week will almost certainly cost them dear, particularly with Barrett’s younger brother, Jordie, who is making his Test debut, providing another kicking option from full-back.
But it’s not just a lack of discipline that worries me - it’s the reaction we can expect from the All Blacks at fortress Eden Park.
France were the last team to win there 23 years ago and since then the hosts have crushed all before them. Last week’s reverse will have hurt New Zealand deeply and we have to expect a response.
Under Steve Hansen, they have won all 11 matches played in Auckland, and only one of those victories was by a single-figure margin - that came against England in 2014.
In that spell the All Blacks have won by an average of 25 points and only failed to top 30 themselves on two occasions.
I’m not predicting such a margin this time as the Lions have already proved they can ruffle the feathers of their rivals, but do expect the hosts to end all hope the Lions have of making history.
The handicap line of 12 points looks just about right, if a little low, and I prefer the added value of a winning margin of 11-20 points at 5/2 (Ladbrokes, Coral and Betfair).
There’s also value to be had in backing a closely-fought first half. New Zealand edged it by only five points in the first Test and the draw returned in Wellington at around 14/1.
To back that up, six of last 11 games at Eden Park, New Zealand have led by a single-figure margin at the break so take the 1-5 point first-half margin at 3/1 with BetVictor.
All we know about New Zealand tells us that they will do their best work after the break, so let's try to profit by backing things to be fairly tight at half-time, before the hosts edge to an ultimately comfortable success.
The All Blacks may have failed to cross the whitewash last week but I expect them to put that right on Saturday.
Israel Dagg came in for some flak after an indifferent performance at full-back but returns to his favoured position on the right wing, with the prolific Julian Savea replacing the ill Rieko Ioane on the left.
Dagg has crossed in two of the last three matches at Eden Park and at 9/1 to score first looks great value to me.
That said, the Lions have so far outscored the All Blacks four tries to two in this series so there is every reason to think they can add to their tally on Saturday.
Last week I selected Anthony Watson and I’m sticking by my guns. The England wing went close in Wellington and it’s his pace and opportunism that could be crucial if the Lions are to get in behind the hosts.
He’s worth a small investment at 7/2 to cross anytime.
Players to watch:
For New Zealand: The three players called into New Zealand’s side, Ngani Laumape, Julian Savea and Jordie Barrett, will be determined to make the shirt their own in Auckland. Laumape and Barrett are long-term options for the All Blacks after solid Super Rugby seasons, while Savea has an opportunity to prove the selectors wrong after he was replaced by Rieko Ioane ahead of the series opener. Laumape’s carrying and Barrett’s creativity from the back will be vital to the All Blacks, with the latter helping take some of the pressure off his brother.
For British & Irish Lions: As mentioned he was nuisance at the breakdown last week and the Lions need Sam Warburton to again be a headache to the All Blacks on Saturday. Alongside Sean O’Brien and Taulupe Faletau, the tourists boast a wonderfully balanced back-row trio and if they can win their battle with their opposites, the Lions stand a chance of claiming a memorable series triumph. Elsewhere and of course Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton need to stamp their authority on the game from a management point of view while Owen Farrell is key.
Head-to-head: Speaking of the centre, the midfield battle is an intriguing one as Ngani Laumape and Anton Lienert-Brown collide with Owen Farrell and Jonathan Davies. Davies has been excellent of late, as he made good metres in the first Test and was rock solid in the second, forming a well balanced partnership with Farrell. This week they face the dynamic Laumape, who they will look to test early in such a big game, and Lienert-Brown, who knows halting Davies’ carries and looking to click with a new midfield partner will be vital at Eden Park.
2017: British & Irish Lions won 24-21 in Wellington
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 & Irish Lions won 20-7 in Wellington
1993: New Zealand won 20-18 in Christchurch
Prediction: They came close to winning with 14 men last week and at fortress Eden Park, it’s a home win for us. New Zealand by 12.
New Zealand: 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 (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 Malakai Fekitoa
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