Saturday the 8th July sees the Lions take on the All Blacks at Eden Park for the match to win the series. Let that sink in. For a side that was written off as 3-0 series losers, this is a quite remarkable achievement. Most said that their preparation time was too short, that their schedule in the buildup to the tests was too demoralising and difficult and that the opposition were simply too good. The Lions in their enthralling win last week proved that they are relevant for more than their glorious history: they can get results too.
Indeed compared to four years ago, when the Lions toured Australia and struggled to get past what was a shoddy and underwhelming national side, this year the Lions have faced the best sports side on the planet and notched up a result. In doing so amidst the downpour of rain and penalties awarded against them, they prevented the men in black from scoring a try for the first time since 1998, ended New Zealand’s incredible 8 year home win streak which had stretched to a phenomenal 48 tests as well as their 14 year win streak in Wellington.
The message is clear, the Lions achieved something very few team achieve last week. Unfortunately their heroics mean this week’s test will be even tougher. The All Blacks simply do not do losing and will not accept a loss on Saturday. This is a nation too entwined to rugby, too passionate and absorbed to forgive a consecutive loss. Moreover while records were overcome last week, the All Blacks most impressive still stands: that they have not lost at Eden Park for 23 years, a record stretching back to the last century. While Sonny Bill Williams will be missing from the action, the Lions will likely face a Highlanders midfield comprising of Malakai Fekitoa and Anthony Lienart-Brown. That pair is so good that it will be Williams is not even missing. Jonathan Davies will have his work cut out replicating the brilliance of his last two tests. Owen Farrell and Johnny Sexton will have to play with total accuracy, and the forwards will have to simultaneously play brutally while also not conceding any penalties. You can bet that Beauden Barrett will have been his goal kicking all week.
This is rugby’s mission impossible. Team’s do not beat New Zealand twice in a row, they do not beat them at Eden Park, and they do not deny them silverware. To win, they will have to play the best rugby seen this century. That is not an exaggeration. In Jim Teffler’s immortal words “This is your Everest boys”, can the Lions climb it?