British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland has urged his side to seize immortality after naming an unchanged matchday squad for Saturday’s decisive final Test against New Zealand in Auckland.
A first series win over the All Blacks since 1971 beckons after the Lions restored parity in the three-match showdown with a 24-21 victory over the world champions in Wellington on Saturday.
Gatland cited the need to hand the players who had dragged the Lions level the opportunity to administer the knockout blow at Eden Park, where New Zealand have not lost a Test match since 1994.
“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,” said Gatland. “It is their chance to make Lions history.
“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 second 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.”
Just as he did at the Westpac Stadium at the weekend, flanker Sam Warburton will lead the Lions, who have named an unchanged starting XV for consecutive Tests for the first time since 1993.
“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,” added Gatland.
“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.”
New Zealand, meanwhile, have made three changes to their XV for the series clincher. Jordie Barrett and Ngani Laumape are set to make their first starts for the All Blacks at full-back and inside centre respectively, while Julian Savea returns on the left wing.