Napoleon Bonaparte once remarked “You must not fight too often with one enemy, or you will teach him all your art of war”. Unfortunately for the British and Irish Lions this is one skirmish they cannot avoid, despite perhaps the enemy knowing their art of war.The clock is running as history beckons for two teams that meet once every twelve years. For the Lions a chance at sporting immortality and very a rare series win in New Zealand and for the All Blacks , defending the pride of a nation as well as upholding what seems to come naturally to them ‘ the excellence of winning’.
It’s now or never for the Lions as they prepare to face a primed and hurting All Blacks, this is the biggest game outside the world cup .A battle between north vs south, different mantras and cultures. Unchanged from the win in Wellington the Lions are brimming with confidence and raring to go. Statistics and analysis from the last match will not have a bearing on this game as this will be like a cup final with the winner taking all. The Lions are 80 minutes from a series win in New Zealand only once achieved by the 1971 side. For them to achieve this feat they will have to be at their excellent best, discipline on this tour has been appalling to say the least. Head Coach Warren Gatland has gone with an unchanged side and the team must repay the faith shown to them and keep the penalties to a minimum and away from kickable range.Players like Mako Vunipola will have breathed a sigh of relief,after having seemingly played himself out the squad with 4 penalties and a yellow card. Alun Wyn Jones was ok and will need to be spectacular for the duration he is on the field. The Lions stepped up in their ferocity in defence and Captain Sam Warburton was nuisance in the breakdown in stifling New Zealand getting their quick three second ball. He will have to go to another level in leading his troops. They will have to play on the edge but yet have the balance not to incur penalties .Jonny Sexton and Owen Farrell must exploit the new centre pairing of Ngani Laumape and Anton Lienert Brown as they will have much success down that channel. They however must be prepared for what is coming down their own channel as New Zealand will send their fire power in their direction.
Touring has a way sometimes of putting doubts in players and their ability especially when the team does not produce the results or performance that is worthy of their status.The Lions will have to trust implicitly each other’s abilities, banish any hesitations and collectively believe they can win. They however face a team that is not used to losing , keen to protect their 23 year unbeaten Eden Park record. More importantly the All Blacks will be defending national pride . They are an iconic team with a win record in the 90th percentile, despite their setbacks in losing important players like fullback Ben Smith, Ryan Crotty and Sonny Bill Williams. They have embraced adversity and churned out more stars with firepower in Ngani Laumape , another Barret this time in the form of Jordie and brought back destructive winger Julian Savea. A few Kiwi players will be making special milestones,Aaron Cruden and Charlie Faumuina will both rack up 50 Test appearances for the All Blacks if they take to the field. Saturday night Kieran Read will play his 100th Test for the All Blacks since debuting against Scotland in 2008 and captain the All Blacks for the 25th time.
The stage is set for a gladiatorial tussle, leaving a legacy and the jersey in a better place for both sides is at stake.Irrespective of the tour itinerary from hell the Lions have managed to remain as their motto says “one for all” Both teams share a dual admiration for Manna (respect) and whānau (family) . The clock is running towards the decider, we will soon know who will prevail. Hopefully it will be an epic contest, an occasion to savour for the coming of ages.