07242017

Lions unchanged – for first time since 1993 – for deciding Test

Sam Warburton claims a line-out under the mountains of Queenstown

The Lions have been training in the stunning scenery of Queenstown this week

The British and Irish Lions have named an unchanged team and bench for the third and decisive Test against New Zealand.

It means they will field the same starting XV in consecutive Tests for the first time since 1993.

Sam Warburton again captains the side from the blind-side flank.

Victory on Saturday at Eden Park – where New Zealand have not lost since 1994 – would give the Lions only their second ever series win in New Zealand.

Lions head coach Warren Gatland, who saw his side win 24-21 win in Wellington last week to level the series, said: “It is not very often on a Lions tour that you get to pick the same 23 for the following game.

“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 [to win the second Test].”

The selection means Scottish players will not have played a single minute in the three Tests.

Analysis – you’ve got to be the aggressors

Former Lions and England winger Ugo Monye

“I think Warren Gatland’s selection is great – it is hard to change a winning team.

“The Lions will go after the All Blacks. Whenever you play away from home you’ve got to be the aggressors.

“The All Blacks rarely lose two games in a row, the last time was in 2011. We’ve got to understand that the result at the weekend hinged on that fact that the All Blacks were down to 14 men and the Lions only just snuck a win.

“But 15 against 15 on Saturday, we will see a purer version of who genuinely is the better side. Momentum is currently with the Lions. You just get that feeling that they are on the verge of creating something special.”

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Gatland has decided to retain the 10-12 partnership of Johnny Sexton and Owen Farrell from the second-Test win on Saturday.

The creative duo gives the Lions more attacking options and Gatland has clearly decided that is more important than shoring up a defensive channel that was targeted by the All Blacks last time out.

Ngani Laumape – who came off the bench to replace the red-carded Sonny Bill Williams and was sent down that channel with some success in Wellington – will make his first start for the All Blacks on Saturday.

England loose-head Mako Vunipola – the target of criticism after an ill-disciplined second half that saw him sin-binned last weekend – retains his number one shirt.

Wales’ Liam Williams has shrugged off injury concerns to once again start at full-back.

Gatland said the Lions are expecting a “backlash” from the world champions in Auckland but added: “We still feel there is another level in us.

“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. It is their chance to make Lions history.”

Lions team to face New Zealand: Liam Williams (Wales); Anthony Watson (England), Jonathan Davies (Wales), Owen Farrell (England), Elliot Daly (England); Johnny Sexton (Ireland), Conor Murray (Ireland); Mako Vunipola (England), Jamie George (England) Tadhg Furlong (Ireland), Maro Itoje (England), Alun Wyn Jones (Wales) Sam Warburton (capt, Wales), Sean O’Brien (Ireland), Taulupe Faletau (Wales)

Replacements: Ken Owens (Wales), Jack McGrath (Ireland), Kyle Sinckler (England), Courtney Lawes (England), CJ Stander (Ireland), Rhys Webb (Wales), Ben Te’o (England), Jack Nowell (England)

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