New Zealand rarely lose and hardly ever at home. Just as the British & Irish Lions burned with desire and determination in Wellington, knowing they had to win to remain in the series, so the All Blacks will have a sharper edge in training this week. The series may be level, but the Lions have created more opportunities than their hosts, who have struggled to break out of the shackles fixed on them by a rush defence. The forward battle has been even, but in the backs it is advantage Lions. Momentum is with them but they know what is coming.
So far New Zealand have stolen the Lions’ clothes and the tourists have, in parts, played like the World Cup holders. In a series of bluff, will anyone wear their own colours at Eden Park? The All Blacks managed only three offloads on Saturday, which was down to the pressing of the Lions more than the weather. By stopping the home side playing off nine or 10, the tourists reduced them to skirmishing and enjoyed more territory and possession than they had in the first Test. Their attitude has been that tries will win the series and that cannot change. Looking forward, will Warren Gatland mould Wales in the same way next season, with the Lions having more than a passing resemblance to England?
The Lions were charged by adrenaline on Saturday, their soufflé rising to the occasion at the Cake Tin. They will again have to be brimming with attitude while being able to handle the fury the All Blacks will be armed with after the indignity of a defeat. It will be the end of a season that started for many of the Lions nearly 11 months and 11 Tests ago. Is it better to go into a decider having won the first or the second Test? The Lions recovered from defeat in Australia four years ago, but not in 2001 or in 1993 in New Zealand. They are playing away, but the hordes of supporters from the four home unions have stripped some of the home advantage away from New Zealand and will add drive to tired legs.
The team will in some ways be more difficult to pick than last week because the temptation after a victory is to say the same again, not that Gatland has often taken that route. His changes behind worked, Johnny Sexton and Owen Farrell showing the value of two playmakers when their forwards are controlling the breakdown and with it the tempo of the game, but at forward the set-pieces have not been their expected source of succour. Jack McGrath is in contention at loosehead prop with Mako Vunipola, who would add thrust from the bench in the final 25 minutes, and they will consider ways of adding to their ball-carrying. They cannot rely on stopping the All Blacks: Saturday will be about winning rather than not losing.
5) Garden of Eden Park
The All Blacks may have lost their 14-year winning sequence in Wellington, but Eden Park is their refuge, a ground where they have not been beaten in the professional era. Playing there gives them a psychological lift, which is why the New Zealand Rugby Union scheduled two matches there this series, and it is 19 years since they lost consecutive Tests at home. Sam Warburton has always said he regards grounds as strips of grass and that it matters not where you are but turning your plans into reality. The Lions need that detachment this week, operating in their own bubble and ignoring the back slaps that will replace the back stabs.