The Lions Third Test - Key Battles
The final game in the British and Irish Lions Tour kicks off this Saturday morning with both the Lions and the New Zealand All Blacks needing a win to clinch the series. The Lions head into the game with confidence after beating a 14 man All Black side in the second game of the series 21-24, thanks to a last-minute Owen Farrell penalty. This was the first time the Lions have beaten the All Blacks since 1993. Heading into the final game, we look at some of the key matchups that will decide the outcome.
Maro Itoje v Sam Whitlock
Maro Itoje is quickly becoming a fan favourite and the cult hero of this Tour with his impressive performance last Saturday which helped the Lions secure a historic victory. Itoje is the youngest member of the Lions team but he doesn’t lack experience with only a World Cup and a Lions Tour left to add to his rugby honours. The Lions lock made the most tackles and carries for his side during the second game of the series and was also asked to run the lineout in which he succeeded well in after recovering from some early wobbles due to the poor weather conditions. With praise from Lions fans and the media alike, the Lions will hope Itoje carries on this form into the third and final game of the series. Itoje will be coming up against one of the best locks in the world in Sam Whitelock who is an integral part of the All Black team. Whitelock is New Zealand’s most capped lock who rarely misses a game for the All Blacks and has had an impressive display in the past two games. Whitelock is by far the more experienced out of the two, being one of only twenty dual Rugby World Cup winners and holding 87 caps for his country. With both locks being crucial in helping their team throughout the game, it is going to be one of the battles of the series in Saturday’s decider.
Owen Farrell v Beauden Barrett
Owen Farrell’s kicking was an integral part of the win last weekend with him converting Murray’s try and scoring 4 penalty kicks including the crucial final kick in the 77th minute that pushed the Lions towards victory. He is quickly becoming one of the best play makers and goalkickers in world rugby and has scored 84 points for the Lions in his career. Farrell has been praised for his nerveless kicking technique and with his partnership with Jonny Sexton becoming one of success during the second test, he is going to play an important part in the final game this Saturday. Although starting at 12, Farrell’s opponent this Saturday will be Beauden Barrett, who like Farrell is integral to the All Blacks team having kicked all their points last weekend. Barrett who is seen as the perfect replacement for Dan Carter, was named Rugby World Player of the Year in 2016 beating Owen Farrell to the title. With 52 caps for the All Blacks and 357 points scored, he will play an important part in Saturday's game. Stats for the two playmakers during their time in the series has Barrett in front with an 81% conversion rate, taking 13 and missing 3. Farrell is sitting at 71% with 12 kicked and 5 missed, however, Farrell will be going into Saturday’s game with more confidence as Barrett missed 3 kicks during the last test which may have cost the All Blacks the game.
Liam Williams v Jordie Barrett
Liam Williams has been another key player during the Lions Tour and has been central to most of the attacks produced by his side. Williams instigated the Sean O’Brien try in the first test and played important roles in the build-up of Faletau and Murray’s tries in the second test. This is the Welsh international’s first tour with the Lions but he has not failed to impress as he has played every game so far on the tour. There has been some doubt with William’s fitness heading into the deciding match but he has been named in the starting line-up which is a huge boost for the Lions. William’s will be coming up against Jordie Barrett, who is the younger brother of All Black’s fly-half Beauden Barrett. Jordie will be making his first start for the All Black’s. Even though Jordie has not started for the All Black senior team before he played against the Lions when they drew to the Hurricanes 31-31, converting the 4 tries scored by his side and scored a penalty kick which helped the Hurricanes come back from a 16-point deficit at half time. Jordie is being seen by many as a risk for the All Blacks this weekend but has proved himself on other stages of rugby. Even though Williams is the more experienced player out of the two, expect both fullbacks to have large influences on the outcome of Saturday’s decider.