Simon Lewis takes a look at the testers that the British & Irish Lions face ahead of their third test against the All Blacks at Eden Park.
That the Lions levelled this series with the All Blacks on Saturday was almost in spite of themselves as they lost their way after half-time and in some cases, lost their heads.
Eight second-half penalties at Westpac Stadium gifted the home side cheap points and if Beauden Barrett had been in better kicking form, 14-man New Zealand would have pulled away handsomely.
The most heinous crime, though, was Mako Vunipola’s yellow card, levelling the playing field when the Lions should have been tightening their grip on the second Test and head coach Warren Gatland needs to be similarly firm on his players this week to cut out the ill discipline that very nearly cost them this series at the earliest opportunity.
Can they kick it?
Both sides will look back at the second Test in Wellington and conclude that they should have kicked much better than they did on a night of constant rainfall in the New Zealand capital.
Gatland felt his players should have kicked more and better out of hand, posing more searching questions of a rejigged All Blacks back three looking less than comfortable under the high ball, while Steve Hansen will demand better decision-making from his kickers in this Saturday’s deciding Test at Eden Park.
The All Blacks failed to probe the Lions backfield as the minutes ticked away and victory slipped from their grasp.
Indeed, not alone did Beauden Barrett miss three penalties last Saturday, he also delivered the ball on a plate with a poor chip straight at Sean O’Brien that allowed the Lions to eat up the clock.
Fortress Eden Park
The Lions have only won one Test match at the iconic Auckland stadium, in 1959, while the All Blacks have not been beaten there by anybody since France upset the odds in 1994.
That’s a record a year older than current world player of the year Beauden Barrett.
Gatland’s side have already lost twice there on this tour, to the Blues and also the first Test but the key question will be whether the Lions’ victory in Wellington on Saturday will help to chip away some of the mystique surrounding the All Blacks at Eden Park.
After all, their win at the weekend handed the Kiwis their first defeat in the national capital since 2003, why shouldn’t another record be broken this Saturday?
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved