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Warren Gatland has named an strong, experienced XV as he looks to end New Zealand’s formidable record in Auckland.
The All Blacks have not been beaten at Eden Park since 1994, a 23-20 defeat to France. They were held 18-18 by South Africa later that year, but have since won 36 matches on the bounce.
After a slow start to the tour the Lions have won their two most recent warm-up matches, but Saturday’s Test will be just that. A massive test.
The British and Irish Lions face their toughest examination of the 2017 tour of New Zealand so far on Saturday, as they take on the All Blacks in the first of three Test matches.
The Lions are coming off a win over Super Rugby side Chiefs but have already suffered losses against Blues and Highlanders, while the hosts are coming off a huge 78-0 win over Samoa.
With 14 wins in their last 15 Tests―only Ireland have knocked them off their perch―the All Blacks are in sensational form.
As reported by Patrick McKendry of the New Zealand Herald, Lions head coach Warren Gatland knows his team will have to play at a high level to have any chance of winning:
With Billy Vunipola and Ben Youngs no longer in the squad, the Lions have taken some hits during the tour. The visitors still boast tremendous talent―replacing scrum-half Youngs with a star such as Greig Laidlaw is a unique luxury―but the same holds true for the All Blacks.
Ardie Savea will move to the bench to make way for the returning Kieran Read, who will captain the side. Rieko Ioane, the 20-year-old who faced the Lions for the Blues, will also start, per the team’s official website.
Gatland, a native Kiwi, has hinted at a more adventurous tactical plan as opposed to the team’s reliance on the breakdown and kicking game, but given the All Blacks’ incredible ability on the counter and strength out wide, that may not be such a great idea.
New Zealand XV: Moody, Taylor, Franks, Retallick, Whitelock, Kaino, Cane, Read (capt), Smith, Barrett, Ioane, Williams, Crotty, Dagg, Smith.
Replacements: Harris, Crockett, Faumuina, Barrett, Savea, Perenara, Cruden/Sopoaga, Lienert-Brown.
Lions XV: Williams, Watson, Davies, Te’o, Daly, Farrell, Murray; Vunipola, George, Furlong, Jones, Kruis, O’Mahony (capt), O’Brien, Faletau
Replacements: Owens, McGrath, Sinckler, Itoje, Warburton, Webb, Sexton, Halfpenny