‘Years of sacrifice come down to final Test’
Third Test: New Zealand v British and Irish Lions
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland Date: Saturday, 8 July Kick-off: 08:35 BST
Coverage: Live text commentary on the BBC Sport website and app. Listen to post-match reaction on the Lions Social, 11:00 BST, BBC Radio 5 live.

The British and Irish Lions will take to the field with “a glint in their eyes” as they look to “create history” in Saturday’s series decider against the All Blacks in Auckland.

After a thrilling second-Test win last weekend, the Lions will start the third and final meeting as underdogs.

New Zealand have not lost consecutive home matches since 1998 and have not been beaten at Eden Park in 23 years.

But Lions captain Sam Warburton has “unfinished business” in the decider.

The Welsh flanker, 28, missed the series-clinching third Test win over Australia in 2013 with a hamstring injury and has been beset by injuries in recent years.

He missed six weeks at the end of the domestic season with a knee injury, and suffered a fractured cheekbone in October 2016. He was also on the bench for the first Test after suffering an ankle knock.

“It feels like all the sacrifice over the past four years and all the little things I have done have come to this moment,” Warburton told BBC Sport.

The Lions were easily beaten 30-15 in the first Test, but claimed a 24-21 victory in the second after the hosts played 55 minutes with 14 men following the sending-off of Sonny Bill Williams.

Now they go into the decider knowing they can achieve a first series win in New Zealand since 1971.

Assistant coach Rob Howley spoke of the “glint in the eyes” of the Lions players since that Wellington win and, although fly-half Johnny Sexton said he “struggles to enjoy it sometimes with the nerves”, he acknowledged that he and his team-mates “have to cherish” a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Head coach Warren Gatland has spoken of the Lions “achieving something special” and “creating a legacy”, but his counterpart Steve Hansen has attempted to play down the importance.

“Is the series hugely significant? Of course it is. Will it define this team? No, because there is a heck of a lot more of this story to be written,” said former police officer Hansen.

“We are expected to win every Test match, and win well. But we are only playing a rugby game. Real pressure is when you’ve got to spend half an hour giving someone CPR and trying to save their life.”

Team news

Can the Lions make history in the deciding Test in New Zealand?

Going into the second Test, the All Blacks appeared settled and confident, while it was Gatland and the Lions who were experimenting with selection.

A week later and Gatland has named an unchanged 23, while Hansen has drafted in two rookies in the back line, Ngani Laumape and Jordie Barrett, to deal with a minor injury crisis.

The series started with New Zealand fielding the likes of Sonny Bill Williams, Ryan Crotty and Ben Smith; it finishes with Hansen gambling on youth.

However the forward pack are still bursting with experience, with skipper Kieran Read becoming only the seventh man to win 100 All Blacks caps.

As for the Lions, Howley has spoken of their big-game players, with nine of the 23 featuring in the victorious third Test against Australia four years ago.

The captain that day was Alun Wyn Jones, who on Saturday plays in his ninth consecutive Lions Test, a longer run than anyone else in the professional era.

Wing Anthony Watson is fit to take his place in the side. This is despite being on the receiving end of a shoulder to the head from Williams that earned the New Zealand centre a red card and left the Bath man requiring assessment.

“I remember everything,” said Watson. “I had to brace myself for it, I guess, but it’s part and parcel of the game.

“He messaged me on Twitter to say there was no intention, and I don’t doubt that.”

Sonny Bill Williams became the first New Zealand player to be sent off since 1967 when he was dismissed for a shoulder charge into the head of Anthony Watson

Analysis

BBC Radio 5 live rugby union reporter Chris Jones

While All Blacks assistant coach Wayne Smith says his side “do a lot of work” on the opposition before big games, the Lions management insist the tourists have been solely focusing on themselves.

“We haven’t even spoken about them,” said Gatland on Thursday.

Either way, the tactical battle between the two sets of coaches will be fascinating.

Hansen et al took the Lions by surprise with their forward-orientated style in Auckland while, despite preconceptions, it’s the Lions who have played a more expansive game across the Tests, outscoring the All Blacks by two tries to none in Wellington, albeit with a man advantage.

But would this series be wrapped up already if Williams had stayed on the field at the Westpac? Or have the Lions developed an all-round gameplan to shock the All Blacks?

These questions will be answered come Saturday evening.

Warren Gatland masterminded the Lions’ 41-16 victory in the third Test against Australia in 2013

What they say

Lions head coach Warren Gatland: “They have the chance to do something special. You have those moments in your life and you don’t want those moments to pass you by.”

Lions captain Sam Warburton: “I can’t imagine any team has better support than the Lions do.”

All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen: “We could win, lose or draw, but we will be a better team for it.”

Stats

4 – Number of tries scored by the Lions in the Test series, compared to three by the hosts

19 – Number of years since the All Blacks lost twice in a row at home

38 – Number of matches since the All Blacks lost at Eden Park

56 – Minutes the All Blacks played with 14 men in the second Test in Wellington

80 – Number of years since the All Blacks lost a series having won the opener

20,000 – Minimum number of Lions fans expected at 45,000-capacity Eden Park

What the locals say

“Red Army look to pour boiling oil on Kiwi plebs at Fortress Eden Park” – www.stuff.co.nz