Is 'do or die' second Test the biggest match in Lions history?
|Second Test: New Zealand v British and Irish Lions|
|Venue: Westpac Stadium, Wellington Date: Saturday, 1 July Kick-off: 08:35 BST|
|Coverage: Live text commentary on the BBC Sport website and app|
British and Irish Lions captain Sam Warburton says Saturday’s second Test is the biggest challenge of his career – and it may also be one of the most significant games in Lions history.
Having lost last week’s first Test in Auckland, this is – as defence coach Andy Farrell says – “do or die” for the tourists.
And a heavy defeat for the Lions could call into question the very future of the concept, with English clubs dissatisfied at the current structure.
Conversely, a win in Wellington would set up a thrilling series decider, and would protect the brand for many years to come.
“I don’t understand the politics and the finances of it, but from the playing point of view it has been the absolute pinnacle of my career, and every career highlight I have had has been in a Lions shirt,” said Warburton.
“Without sounding too strong, I would be gutted, devastated, if the Lions was ever lost. I think it’s absolutely amazing and the players all think the same.
“In my house, I’ve only got one jersey hanging up on the wall and it’s my Lions jersey. That is how much I think of the Lions.”
Lions head coach Warren Gatland is not adverse to making bold selections on Lions tours, and he has again gambled for Saturday’s game.
But his side will need to produce one of the great Lions performances to salvage the series, and potentially the future of the concept too.
Team news – last roll of the dice?
Having been reluctant to field the combination together all tour, Gatland has waited until match nine to pair Johnny Sexton and Owen Farrell at fly-half and inside centre.
The move has been described as Gatland’s “last roll of the dice”, and it represents a substantial shift in policy at the 11th hour.
Gatland has long been associated with clarity in terms of thought and deed, so the decision is out of character. It could come to define his tenure as Lions coach.
Elsewhere, Maro Itoje and Warburton have been drafted in to beef up the pack, while Gatland continues to be influenced by midweek performances, with Courtney Lawes, CJ Stander and Jack Nowell all playing their way on to the bench.
The two changes for the All Blacks are both enforced, with Waisake Naholo coming in for the concussed Ben Smith – Israel Dagg moves from the wing to full-back as a result – and Anton Lienert-Brown replacing the injured Ryan Crotty.
Analysis – can Lions front up?
While a lot of focus will be on the Lions’ midfield, the real issue in the first Test was up front, with the All Blacks comfortably dominating on the gainline and at the breakdown.
Ironically, inside centre Ben Te’o was one of the few Lions to edge his head to head with his opposite number – keeping Sonny Bill Williams quiet – but he finds himself on the bench.
The Lions’ forwards have candidly admitted this week they need a shift in mindset and attitude to win the physical battle.
And unless the entire team improves their approach across the board, this series will be over, something acknowledged by Andy Farrell.
“It’s about character this week. It’s about manning up and putting everything on the line, because it’s do or die,” he said.
“We’ll see what we’re made of this week.”
What they say:
All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen: “Losing hurts, it sucks, it’s not a great idea.”
Lions head coach Warren Gatland: “It’s been a great experience for us as a team. Hopefully we can have a good game of rugby and maybe enjoy a beer together afterwards.”
The last time New Zealand were beaten in Wellington was by the England side that would go on to win the 2003 World Cup six months later.
Jonny Wilkinson kicked the points in the 15-13 win but it is for a heroic series of six-man scrummages on their line by England, with Neil Back and Lawrence Dallaglio in the sin bin, for which the game is most remembered.
74 – Number of minutes Johnny Sexton and Owen Farrell have played together on tour, ahead of starting together in the second Test.
15 – Number of clean line breaks made by the Lions in the series opener at Eden Park.
99 – Talismanic All Blacks captain Kieran Read edges closer to a cap milestone
What do the locals say?
“No-one rates us, we don’t care” – The New Zealand Herald hits back at those doubting the All Blacks set-piece
“Game on, Wellington” – The Dominion Post says it’s the capital’s time to shine
New Zealand: I Dagg; W Naholo, A Lienert-Brown, S B Williams, R Ioane; B Barrett, A Smith; J Moody, C Taylor, O Franks, B Retallick, S Whitelock, J Kaino, S Cane, K Read (capt).
Replacements: N Harris, W Crockett, C Faumuina, S Barrett, A Savea, TJ Perenara, A Cruden, N Laumape.
British and Irish Lions: L Williams (Wales); A Watson (England), J Davies (Wales), O Farrell (England), E Daly (England); J Sexton (Ireland), C Murray (Ireland); M Vunipola (England), J George (England), T Furlong (Ireland), M Itoje (England), A W Jones (Wales), S Warburton (Wales, capt), S O’Brien (Ireland), T Faletau (Wales).
Replacements: K Owens (Wales), J McGrath (Ireland), K Sinckler (England), C Lawes (England), CJ Stander (Ireland), R Webb (Wales), B Te’o (England), J Nowell (England).
Referee: Jerome Garces (France).
Assistant referees: Romain Poite (France) and Jaco Peyper (South Africa).