Preview: New Zealand v British & Irish Lions

New Zealand have the chance to secure a series win over the British and Irish Lions at the first attempt when they face off in Wellington.

After showing their clinical edge in last weekend's game at Eden Park, the All Blacks are now 80 minutes away from popping the champagne. Few expect there to be a series decider in Auckland but the Lions will push hard to silence those doubters at a wet Westpac Stadium.

Yes, rain is forecast for Friday and Saturday in Wellington and that could play into the Lions' hands, particularly as team changes see Warren Gatland opt for Jonathan Sexton alongside Owen Farrell at 10 and 12. That means that along with Conor Murray at the base, they have solid options that include the left boots of Jonathan Davies and Elliot Daly. Expect the tourists to put boot to ball more than the first Test.

Much has been made, however, of the decision to drop Ben Te'o, arguably the Lions' best performer from last week, down to the bench. Te'o stood up admirably against Sonny Bill Williams, but Gatland has rolled the dice and is gambling on creativity over carrying in Wellington.

Sam Warburton has also made his way into the side at the expense of Peter O'Mahony while it's George Kruis who cops the axe to allow lock Maro Itoje his start. There's impact aplenty on the replacements bench meanwhile which, unlike on Tuesday, will be unleashed in its entirety.

The All Blacks too have made changes, although theirs were enforced due to the absence of Ben Smith and Ryan Crotty. That means the chief destroyer of the Lions for the Highlanders, Waisake Naholo, comes in, as does Anton Lienert-Brown, with both high-class internationals.

Once again it's a fascinating prospect that awaits this Saturday at the Hurricanes' home, with only one of their players, Beauden Barrett, starting in black. He again should have a big say in the game while Ardie Savea, TJ Perenara and Ngani Laumape are primed to make an impact.

New Zealand blew the British & Irish Lions away with their quick thinking in Auckland and despite the coaches' calls not to switch off at any moment against the world champions, somehow the All Blacks caught them napping. That simply has to be avoided if the Lions are to prevail.

But even if the Lions do improve in the top two inches it is hard to envisage the All Blacks to be quite so loose in their defence as they were last week. They too will improve seven days on, which is a frightening prospect, but one the neutral and this game will could well benefit from.

Players to watch:

For New Zealand: Changes to the All Blacks' back-three due to injury also sees Israel Dagg move into the full-back spot. The Crusader will no doubt be regularly tested in Wellington by the Lions' tactical kickers and he must be solid or their chasers will pounce. But he's of course no stranger to the 15 shirt and should slot in with no problem, with his attacking game and ability to buy himself a yard when in possession set to free up space for the likes of Waisake Naholo and Rieko Ioane, who'll be keen to follow up his two-try showing in style.

For British & Irish Lions: All eyes will be on the Lions playmakers as Warren Gatland picks both Jonathan Sexton and Owen Farrell as he looks to unlock New Zealand's defence with two distributors. Memories of the 2005 experiment that did not work -when Stephen Jones and Jonny Wilkinson combined in this country – resurface but unlike 12 years ago, Farrell has proven he can operate at 12 at Championship-winning level. These are two expressive and vocal men and if on the same page they could flourish… if not, the knives will be out.

Head-to-head: One of the standout players from the first Test was, of course, Brodie Retallick as he made ground with almost every carry he took up. The Lions meanwhile simply had to change at least one of their locks as they were outshone in Auckland, so in comes Maro Itoje alongside Alun Wyn Jones. Itoje and his pack can't afford another dominant Retallick and Sam Whitelock showing, with the Saracen's ability to get over the ball at the breakdown something that could help in that regard. Sam Warburton will also look to do the same at the ruck.

Previous results:

2017: New Zealand won 30-15 in Auckland
2005: New Zealand won 38-19 in Auckland
2005: New Zealand won 48-18 in Wellington
2005: New Zealand won 21-3 in Christchurch
1993: New Zealand won 30-13 in Auckland
1993: British and Irish Lions won 20-7 in Wellington
1993: New Zealand won 20-18 in Christchurch

Prediction: The series will be wrapped up by the All Blacks on Saturday. The weather won't stop another victory. New Zealand by 15.

The teams:

New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody
Replacements: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Aaron Cruden, 23 Ngani Laumape

British & Irish Lions: 15 Liam Williams, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Elliot Daly, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Sean O’Brien, 6 Sam Warburton (c), 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Jamie George, 1 Mako Vunipola
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 Courtney Lawes, 20 CJ Stander, 21 Rhys Webb, 22 Ben Te’o, 23 Jack Nowell

Date: Saturday, July 1
Venue: Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Kick-off: 19:35 local (07:35 GMT)
Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)
Assistant Referees: Romain Poite (France), Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)

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