British and Irish Lions unchanged for Test decider against All Blacks
Liam Williams has shaken off his leg concern to allow the British and Irish Lions to name an unchanged team for Saturday's Test series decider against New Zealand.
The Wales full-back sat out part of training yesterday, with assistant coach Neil Jenkins admitting he had “tightness” in his leg, but the 26-year-old has still been named in the Lions' line-up for the third Test.
Sam Warburton again leads the tourists from blindside flanker, as the Lions field the same matchday 23 that edged the All Blacks 24-21 in Wellington last weekend to square the series at 1-1.
The All Blacks have not lost at Eden Park since 1994, and have not lost a home Test series since 1986 – but head coach Warren Gatland firmly believes the Lions can now claim just their second-ever series win in New Zealand.
“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,” said Lions boss Gatland.
“It is their chance to make Lions history.”
The ability to select pacy strike-runner Williams will be relief to Gatland, who has appeared happy with the balance of the back three after moving the Saracens-bound flyer into the 15 shirt for the Test series.
Williams did not complete yesterday's training session at Queenstown Events Centre, with Lions kicking coach Jenkins later insisting: “It's probably precautionary, just a little bit of tightness.”
It was Williams's gutsy break in the first Test that kick-started the 80-metre move for O'Brien's stunning try, and put New Zealand on message of the Lions' abilities and determination to play with width, pace and style.
Williams's soon to be Saracens team-mate Mako Vunipola keeps the number one jersey ahead of Jack McGrath despite the loosehead prop conceding four penalties and being yellow-carded last Saturday in Wellington.
Gatland said he was pleased to be able to select the exact same match day 23 that featured in the second Test.
“It is not very often on a Lions tour that you get to pick the same 23 for the following game,” said Gatland.
“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 is 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 have all put their disappointment behind them and are helping the match day squad prepare the best they can for the Test match.
Jordie Barrett, meanwhile, will make his first New Zealand start in Saturday's series decider.
Barrett, the 20-year-old brother of All Blacks fly-half Beauden Barrett, wins a second cap at full-back after going on as a replacement during the pre-series appointment with Samoa last month.
Elsewhere, Ngani Laumape lines up at centre instead of a suspended Sonny Bill Williams, while juggernaut wing Julian Savea is recalled for Rieko Ioane and Israel Dagg switches from full-back to right-wing, with Waisake Naholo dropping out.
New Zealand: J Barrett; I Dagg, A Lienert-Brown, N Laumape, J Savea; B Barrett, A Smith; J Moody, C Taylor, O Franks, B Retallick, S Whitelock, J Kaino, S Cane,
K Read (capt). Replacements: N Harris, W Crockett,
C Faumuina, S Barrett, A Savea, TJ Perenara, A Cruden, M Fekitoa.
Lions: L Williams, A Watson, J Davies, O Farrell, E Daly, J Sexton, C Murray, M Vunipola, J George, T Furlong, M Itoje, AW Jones, S Warburton (capt), S O'Brien, T Faletau.
Replacements: K Owens, J McGrath, K Sinckler, C Lawes, CJ Stander, R Webb, B Te'o, J Nowell.