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Wednesday, 16 January, 2019

Lions have a mountain to climb to plunder decisive victory

All Blacks can overcome conditions and tireless defence

The British & Irish Lions train in the beautiful surroundings of Queenstown
1 of 1

Third Test
Sky Sports 1, 8.35am Saturday

"This is your Everest boys." The speech by forwards coach Jim Telfer to the 1997 British & Irish Lions pack before the first Test in South Africa has gone down in Lions lore. And now the 2017 vintage have a mountain of their own to climb to overcome New Zealand at their Eden Park fortress.

The All Blacks won the first Test convincingly, then in Wellington last weekend the Lions levelled things but with a victory that left more questions than answers.

The Lions outscored the world champions by two tries to none, but they were playing against 14 men for nearly an hour. They also gave away 13 penalties, ten of which resulted in kicks at goal, and they trailed by nine points after an hour.

So the biggest question is what would have happened if they had done that against 15 men? And the answer doesn't take much thinking about. The Lions took a huge step up to clinch victory last week, but they will have to move up another level on top to steal the series from an All Blacks side smarting from defeat and out for revenge.

Indeed, the boot is on the other foot this week. In the second Test the Lions were the ones who had been stung and forced to move up a gear. The All Blacks have rung the changes in attack and take on a Lions side who have the confidence that comes with victory and an unchanged team. But there are still areas of vulnerability that the All Blacks can target.

Discipline has been a key focus in training and the Lions know they have to reduce their penalty count. But there’s a difficult balance to be struck between caution and intensity and the fear is that the Lions may flinch when it comes to committing wholeheartedly at the breakdown. 

The All Blacks have also looked strong in the scrum. Four years ago French referee Romain Poite took charge of the decisive Test against Australia and was quick to penalise the Wallaby scrum against a dominant Lions pack, but if the tourists find themselves on the back foot at Eden Park, Poite is sure to be equally quick to act.

It's not all negative for the Lions by any means, and New Zealand will have no doubt that they have to fight for victory.

In particular the Lions' scramble defence has been tireless as they kept the All Blacks tryless last week for the first time since 2014 - a run of 38 matches - and even the three tries the hosts scored in the first Test all came from first-phase ball.

And the weather is set to be wet again, just as in the first two matches, and that could limit the All Blacks' chances of putting together some free-flowing attacking rugby, particular with two rookies in their backline in inside centre Ngani Laumape full-back Jordie Barrett.

It could well be a close match as the Lions have been playing well enough to put on some scoring pressure, and a man to follow on the tryscorer markets could be number eight Taulupe Faletau.

The Wales international, who started the third Test in Australia four years ago, scored the opening try last week in the corner from as the Lions ran the ball through their backline, and he also found himself in a scoring position out wide when scrum-half Conor Murray put in a cross kick from a penalty advantage.

Faletau could well be the extra man in attack for the Lions and he showed when he tramped all over New Zealand full-back Israel Dagg for his try, he has the power to finish.  

New Zealand to win by one to 12 points
2pts 11-5 Coral, Ladbrokes
T Faletau to score a try
1pt 13-2 Sky Bet

The Lions took a huge step up to clinch victory last week, but they will have to move up another level on top to steal the series
E.W. Terms
Sky bet