We were at Eden Park 12 years ago for the final test of the 2005 tour when the Lions lost heavily to end up going down 3-0 in the series.
The All Blacks record there is formidable – I mentioned the statistics in a post last week (‘Garden of Eden’) and the fact that they haven’t lost there for 23 years
Truth is though, it’s not a particularly intimidating stadium – apart for the statistics – and it certainly won’t be tomorrow with over 20,000 in red shirts on the side lines.
In reality, 4 days before that last test, the midweek team beat Auckland at Eden Park 17-13 which completed a complete sweep of the midweek fixtures.
The fact that the 2005 side only lost the tests and the game against the Maori ABs endorses the view that it is only the tests that count – and all that anyone remembers.
So it is again this year – in fact the whole tour rests on the result tomorrow in my view.
Forget that the game is at Eden Park – it’s an impressive record but just like the ABs unbeaten run it will fall at some time.
The All Blacks have played just the one game in the run up to the series – admittedly they demolished Samoa, but to put it into context Samoa lost this morning to the Welsh second team.
By contrast the Lions are pretty battle hardened having come through the ‘suicide’ itinerary that they have been faced with.
Captain Kieran Reed will be playing his first game for some time and Ryan Crotty has also been out injured.
However the All Blacks are the best team on the planet and have a formidable and experienced line-up. Even with Reiko Ioane playing for just the third time in a black jersey, they start with a total of 788 caps.
If the Lions are to have any chance of taking the series then they have to win tomorrow – only Finlay Calder has captained a Lions side that came back from 1-0 down (1989 Australia).
The All Blacks will improve over the three games.
The ‘Saturday’ Lions have shown that they can shut down the NZ wide offloading game in the matches against the Maori and Crusaders.
They need to up that intensity tomorrow and keep it going for 80 minutes.
The longer they frustrate the ABs the better the chance of capitalising on the errors that will occur when the men in black try to run from deep – just as Ireland did when Robbie Henshaw scored late in the last quarter.
The Lions should stick to the game plan that has seen them close down the wide game that the NZ teams play – the risk is that they try and open up and allow the ABs to benefit from mistakes.
The weather looks like it will be just what Dr Borthwick ordered and that will help the set piece.
Personally I would have preferred a French referee but hope that the Pied Peyper doesn’t fall for Steve Hansen’s mind games.
After all that prevaricating I am going for a Lions win by 6 points and keeping my fingers crossed.