2015 Pacific Games, Port Moresby, PAPUA NEW GUINEA
4 - 18th July 2015
AUCKLAND, 06 JULY 2017 (THE TELEGRAPH UK)---Warren Gatland has urged his players to “make Lions history” after putting his faith in an unchanged squad ahead of the Test series decider against the All Blacks in Auckland on Saturday.
Gatland sent out a strong message in naming the first unchanged Lions squad of the professional era by claiming the 23 that salvaged the series with the 24-21 victory in Wellington last Saturday had earned the right to become the first touring side to defeat the All Blacks since 1971.
Liam Williams, the only injury concern after missing training on Wednesday with a tightness in his leg, has been passed fit to start.
“It is not very often on a Lions tour that you get to pick the same 23 for the following game,” said Gatland, whose squad returned to Auckland on Wednesday night after the rest and recuperation trip to Queenstown, the resort town in the south island.
“We felt we should reward the players for the result and the courage that they showed in coming from behind from 18-9 down, digging themselves out of a hole and then finishing strongly in that last 10 to 15 minutes.
“There are some players who are pretty disappointed not to be selected and I understand that. It is what you would expect from competitive top athletes, they back themselves.
“But we have stressed all along that this is not all about the 23 players but about everyone in the squad - they have put their disappointment behind them and are helping the match-day squad prepare the best they can for the Test match.”
That sense of continuity, however, was in start contrast to the All Blacks camp, where head coach Steve Hansen has been forced to reshuffle his line-up because of injury and suspension.
This week it appears that Hansen has been forced to roll the dice in selection terms, responding to the defeat in Wellington by dropping both his wingers - Rieko Ioane and Waisake Naholo – in a surprise overhaul of his back three that includes a first full debut for 20-year-old Jordie Barrett, the younger brother of fly-half Beauden and second row replacement Scott.
The four-week ban for Sonny Bill Williams, following his red card for a dangerous tackle on Anthony Watson, also forced Hansen to change his midfield, with Hurricanes centre Ngani Laumape coming in for his first start for the All Blacks.
Jordie Barrett’s selection at full-back allows Israel Dagg to move back to the right wing while Hansen also hands a recall to Julian Savea, who was surprisingly overlooked from the starting line-ups of the first two Tests, despite a remarkable scoring record that has yielded 46 tries in 53 Test matches.
If Hansen’s overhaul has a reactive feel to it, Gatland still expects his side to face the toughest examination yet of the 10-match tour, but insists there is still more to come from the Lions.
“We are all aware of how big this game is and we are expecting a backlash from the All Blacks,” added Gatland.
“But the pleasing thing about the second Test is just how strong we were in the last 10 or 15 minutes, in terms of energy and enthusiasm so we still feel there is another level in us.
"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.”
Hansen’s selection will no doubt come under scrutiny but it remains a formidable-looking side, with an unchanged pack led by Kieran Read. Read wins his 100th cap, becoming the seventh All Black to hit a century after Richie McCaw, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock, Dan Carter, Ma'a Nonu and Mils Muliaina.
Savea’s brother, Ardie, makes the bench, meaning there will be two sets of brothers in the match-day squad. Malakai Fekitoa, who was called into the squad this week, has been named in the match-day 23 as midfield cover.
“This final match is going to be a cracker,” said Hansen. “It's the series we expected it to be, as the Lions have quality players.
“It now comes down to this Saturday - the winner takes all - and that'll create its own unique pressures and it's going to be interesting to see how both sides cope with it.
“We've had a good week of preparation and are very excited by the opportunity that's ahead of us, and I'm sure the Lions are as well.
“We know it'll be a physical and intense match, but just as importantly, it'll be a game where both teams will have moments of momentum, and the ability of everyone to adapt and adjust throughout the 80 minutes will be crucial.”
Lions XV: Liam Williams, Anthony Watson, Jonathan Davies, Owen Farrell, Elliot Daly, Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray; Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, Tadhg Furlong, Maro Itoje, Alun Wyn Jones, Sam Warburton, Sean O’Brien, Taulupe Faletau.
Replacements: Ken Owens, Jack McGrath, Kyle Sinckler, Courtney Lawes, CJ Stander, Rhys Webb, Ben Te’o, Jack Nowell....PACNEWS