The British & Irish Lions have named an unchanged starting line-up and bench for the third and final Test against New Zealand at Eden Park on Saturday (kick-off 7.35pm local time/8.35am Irish time).
Wales flanker Sam Warburton will again lead the matchday 23 who secured a 24-21 win in the second Test in Wellington. It is the first time since 1993 that the Lions have kept the same XV for consecutive Tests.
Four Irish starters are retained – half-backs Jonathan Sexton and Conor Murray and forwards Tadhg Furlong and Sean O’Brien – and Jack McGrath and CJ Stander, who could make his Lions Test debut this weekend, will provide back-up from the bench.
Head coach Warren Gatland 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.
“There are some players who are pretty disappointed not to be selected and I understand that. It’s what you would expect from competitive top athletes, they back themselves. But we have stressed all along that this is not all about the 23 players but about everyone in the squad – they’ve put their disappointment behind them and are helping the matchday squad prepare the best they can for the Test match.
“We’re 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.
“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.”
Meanwhile, yesterday it was announced that Ulster and Ireland back Jared Payne will take no further part in the Lions tour. Payne stayed in Wellington for tests after reporting with a headache before the Hurricanes game.
Gatland explained: “While the findings of Jared’s tests have been normal, he still has migraine and will not be fit to train until his symptoms have settled. The specialists are happy that the symptoms are not concussion related and he is expected to recover fully. We wish him a speedy recovery.”
BRITISH & IRISH LIONS Team & Replacements (v New Zealand, 2017 British & Irish Lions Tour Third Test, Eden Park, Auckland, New Zealand, Saturday, July 8, kick-off 7.35pm local time/8.35am Irish time):
15. Liam Williams (Scarlets/Wales) #833
14. Anthony Watson (Bath/England) #816
13. Jonathan Davies (Scarlets/Wales) #778
12. Owen Farrell (Saracens/England) #780
11. Elliot Daly (Wasps/England) #822
10. Jonathan Sexton (Leinster/Ireland) #791
9. Conor Murray (Munster/Ireland) #790
1. Mako Vunipola (Saracens/England) #787
2. Jamie George (Saracens/England) #819
3. Tadhg Furlong (Leinster/Ireland) #818
4. Maro Itoje (Saracens/England) #825
5. Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys/Wales) #761
6. Sam Warburton (Cardiff Blues/Wales) (capt) #800
7. Sean O’Brien (Leinster/Ireland) #796
8. Taulupe Faletau (Bath/Wales) #779
16. Ken Owens (Scarlets/Wales) #829
17. Jack McGrath (Leinster/Ireland) #827
18. Kyle Sinckler (Harlequins/England) #814
19. Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints/England) #826
20. CJ Stander (Munster/Ireland) #831
21. Rhys Webb (Ospreys/Wales) #820
22. Ben Te’o (Worcester Warriors/England) #815
23. Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs/England) #828