No changes to Lions team for All Blacks Test series decider
Coach Warren Gatland has decided to make no changes to the British and Irish Lions starting XV and replacements for Saturday's deciding third and final Test against New Zealand.
Gatland said: “It is not very often on a Lions Tour that you get to pick the same 23 for the following game.
“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.
“We are all aware of how big this game is and we are expecting a backlash from the All Blacks. But the pleasing thing about the 2nd 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.”
British & Irish Lions (v New Zealand, 3rd Test, Saturday, July 8, 7.35pm NZST, 8.35am BST):
15. Liam Williams – Scarlets, Wales, #833
14. Anthony Watson – Bath Rugby, England, #816
13. Jonathan Davies – Scarlets, Wales, #778
12. Owen Farrell – Saracens, England, #780
11. Elliot Daly – Wasps, England, #822
10. Johnny Sexton – Leinster, Ireland, #791
9. Conor Murray – Munster, Ireland, #790
1. Mako Vunipola – Saracens, England, #787
2. Jamie George – Saracens, England, #819
3. Tadhg Furlong – Leinster, Ireland, #818
4. Maro Itoje – Saracens, England, #825
5. Alun Wyn Jones – Ospreys, Wales, #761
6. Sam Warburton (capt) – Cardiff Blues, Wales, #800
7. Sean O’Brien – Leinster, Ireland, #796
8. Taulupe Faletau – Bath Rugby, Wales, #779
16. Ken Owens – Scarlets, Wales, #829
17. Jack McGrath – Leinster, Ireland, #827
18. Kyle Sinckler – Harlequins, England, #814
19. Courtney Lawes – Northampton Saints, England, #826
20. CJ Stander – Munster, Ireland, #831
21. Rhys Webb – Ospreys, Wales, #820
22. Ben Te’o – Worcester Warriors, England, #815
23. Jack Nowell – Exeter Chiefs, England, #828
New Zealand also named their team today.
Head coach Steve Hansen has made three changes and one positional switch following a 24-21 second Test defeat in Wellington last weekend, which was the All Blacks' first home loss since 2009.
Jordie Barrett, brother of New Zealand fly-half Beauden Barrett and replacement back-row forward Scott Barrett, will make his first All Blacks start.
Barrett wins a second cap at full-back after going on as a substitute during the pre-series appointment with Samoa.
Elsewhere, Ngani Laumape lines up at centre instead of a suspended Sonny Bill Williams, while juggernaut wing Julian Savea replaces Rieko Ioane and Israel Dagg switches from full-back to right-wing, with Waisake Naholo dropping out.
Naholo suffered a head knock during the defeat five days ago, but it is understood his omission from the match-day 23 is not related to that.
Ioane, two-try star of the All Blacks' first Test win, also misses the cut, with Malakai Fekitoa, who was called into the New Zealand squad last weekend, providing back division cover on the bench alongside TJ Perenara and Aaron Cruden.
"This final match in the series is going to be a cracker," Hansen said, ahead of the Eden Park showdown. "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 will 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 is ahead of us, and I am sure the Lions are as well.
"We know it will be a physical and intense match, but just as importantly, it will 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."
Both Jordie Barrett and Laumape have been in blistering Super Rugby form for the Hurricanes this year, but they are sure to come under pressure on Saturday, given their international inexperience, as the Lions target a first Test series triumph against New Zealand since 1971.
Savea, meanwhile, was not involved in the first two Tests, but he is a proven performer at the highest level, scoring 46 tries during his 53-cap career.
And All Blacks skipper Kieran Read becomes the seventh New Zealand player to win 100 caps, following Richie McCaw, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock, Dan Carter, Ma'a Nonu and Mils Muliaina.
"On behalf of the All Blacks and all of New Zealand, I would like to congratulate 'Reado' (Kieran Read) on reaching the milestone of 100 Test matches," Hansen added.
"It is a special achievement to play just one Test, so to play 100 is a remarkable effort.
"His playing ability speaks for itself and inspires others, and he now joins a unique group of special All Blacks.
"We would also like to congratulate Jordie on making his first Test start in what will be a very memorable occasion for him."
Despite levelling the series last time out, the Lions have still got it all to do.
New Zealand are unbeaten at Eden Park since France beat them there in 1994, a 39-Test run, while they have not lost successive home games for 19 years.
And the All Blacks return to Auckland just a fortnight after overpowering the Lions to claim a 30-15 first Test triumph.
New Zealand team: J Barrett; I Dagg, A Lienert-Brown, N Laumape, J Savea; 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, M Fekitoa.