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Monday, 21 January, 2019

Lions go for the kill but will Gatland's gamble pay off?

Scrum-half Murray the pick to cash in on forward efforts

Lions scrum-half Conor Murray makes a break in the first Test against New Zealand
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Second Test
Sky Sports 1, 8.35am Saturday

The consensus is that British & Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland has gone all-in with his selection to save the series against the All Blacks - and it's a gamble that may not pay off.

Gatland has made just three changes to his team following last week's 30-15 defeat in the series opener, but they are significant ones as Jonathan Sexton steps up from the bench to start at fly-half, with Owen Farrell moving across to inside centre alongside him.

The intention is to add more attacking options and give the Lions more of a cutting edge, and Sexton is all too aware of the need to keep scoring pressure on the All Blacks.

The fly-half was instrumental in securing Ireland's historic victory over New Zealand in November - alongside scrum-half Conor Murray who also starts this match - and he has stressed the need to hit the ground running.

"You can’t sit back against them," he said. "That’s the one thing I think the Irish guys might try and influence with the other guys, that you’ve got to keep attacking no matter what the scoreline."

But intention is one thing and execution quite another - and a wet and windy forecast for Wellington looks set to hamper enterprising play - while putting the emphasis on attack has meant shifting the balance of a team who put in a huge defensive shift last week.

Although the Lions were outscored by three tries to two in the first Test, all of the All Blacks' tries came from first-phase ball. When it came to their structured play with ball in hand the Lions' scramble defence was able to hold out.

The Lions made 162 tackles to the All Blacks' 83 and it remains to be seen whether that kind of effort can be sustained on top of a more direct attacking approach.

Sexton's inclusion has meant Ben Te'o drops to the bench, and the England centre's physical presence may well be missed in midfield.

But the weather may have an even more influential impact. The early forecast is for rain throughout the day on Saturday with some heavy outbreaks by the evening, and winds gusting up to 30mph.

If that forecast holds true points could be hard to come by and we may be in for a tighter game than last week. But the key advantages still look to lie with the All Blacks, who allowed Farrell just one kick at goal in the whole match, and they look value to seal the series with a win by up to 12 points.

The onus may well be on the forwards to drive the Lions forward and the best tryscorer bet could be the man standing behind them - scrum-half Conor Murray.

Murray's record stands at ten tries in 59 Tests, but six of those have come in 16 matches in the last two years as he has become a bigger and bigger part of Ireland's attacking threat. With Farrell and Sexton both kicking for territory, the Lions could find themselves rumbling close to the goalline, and Murray is a big price at 7-1 to be there to finish it off.

New Zealand to win by one to 12 points
2pts 11-5 Betfair
C Murray to score a try
1pt 7-1 BoyleSports 

Intention is one thing and execution quite another - and a wet and windy forecast for Wellington looks set to hamper enterprising play
E.W. Terms
Sky bet