Gatland backs unchanged Lions as All Blacks roll dice
The British and Irish Lions named an unchanged team on Thursday for the decisive third Test against the All Blacks, who gambled on rookies in a reshuffled backline.
Visiting coach Warren Gatland urged his team to “make Lions history” as he had the luxury of picking the team’s first unchanged line-up since 1993.
The All Blacks, who are back-to-back world champions, won the first Test 30-15 but lost 24-21 last week, when the Lions came from nine points down in the final 20 minutes.
The Lions will now bid to complete their first New Zealand series victory in 46 years on Saturday at Auckland’s Eden Park — where the All Blacks are unbeaten in 38 Tests.
“It is not very often on a Lions Tour that you get to pick the same 23 for the following game,” Gatland said.
“We are all aware of how big this game is and we are expecting a backlash from the All Blacks,” he added.
“This is a huge chance for this group of players to show their abilities and reap the benefits of the work everyone has put in.
“It is their chance to make Lions history.”
While the composite team are finally settled at the end of their tour, the All Blacks were forced into changes with coach Steve Hansen giving Jordie Barrett and Ngani Laumape their first Test starts.
Prolific winger Julian “The Bus” Savea returns after being dropped for the first two games with Barrett, fly-half Beauden’s brother, named at fullback and Laumape at centre.
It comes after Sonny Bill Williams was suspended following his red card in the second Test. Hansen said Rieko Ioane was unwell and his fellow wing Waisake Naholo was dropped as a precaution after a head knock.
‘Cool, calm, collected’
Jordie Barrett and Laumape have just 70 minutes of international rugby between them, and Anton Lienert-Brown, who will partner Laumape in the centres, only made his debut last year.
Hansen denied reports of scuffles at training as tensions mount pre-game, and insisted that Barrett, who is likely to face an aerial bombardment from the Lions, could handle the pressure.
Barrett, is a “cool, calm collected kid and we wouldn’t have put him there if we didn’t think he was up to it. He wouldn’t be put in the position if we didn’t trust him,” Hansen said.
“Ngani’s the guy we see going forward is going to play a big part in our selection process and we’ve got a lot of confidence in him.”
The last time the All Blacks played a rookie fullback against the Lions was in 1977, when Bevan Wilson came in after New Zealand lost the second Test. His penalty-kicking prowess steered the All Blacks to victory in the remaining two Tests of that series.
Hansen also attempted to play down the importance of the game, insisting it would not be the end the world if the Lions win only their second series in New Zealand.
“I’ve heard a lot of stories this week that you’d think the All Blacks have never lost a game and the sky’s fallen in” after losing the second Test, he said.
New Zealand: Jordie Barrett; Israel Dagg, Anton Lienert-Brown, Ngani Laumape, Julian Savea; Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith; Kieran Read (capt), Sam Cane, Jerome Kaino; Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick; Owen Franks, Codie Taylor, Joe Moody
Replacements: Nathan Harris, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Scott Barrett, Ardie Savea, TJ Perenara, Aaron Cruden, Malakai Fekitoa
Lions: Liam Williams (WAL); Anthony Watson (ENG), Jonathan Davies (WAL), Owen Farrell (ENG), Elliot Daly (ENG); Johnny Sexton (IRL), Conor Murray (/IRL); Taulupe Faletau (ENG), Sean O’Brien (IRL), Sam Warburton (capt, WAL); Alun Wyn Jones (WAL), Maro Itoje (ENG); Tadhg Furlong (IRL), Jamie George (ENG), Mako Vunipola (ENG)
Replacements: Ken Owens (WAL), Jack McGrath (IRL), Kyle Sinckler (ENG), Courtney Lawes (ENG), CJ Stander (IRL), Rhys Webb (WAL), Ben Te’o (ENG), Jack Nowell (ENG).
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