With the Lions one win away from immortality, and the All Blacks under rare pressure,
We asked Mike Umaga, director of rugby at Bishop Burton and brother of Tana who captained New Zealand against the Lions 12 years ago, to assess the series.
He expects the All Blacks to respond positively from their 24-21 defeat at Wellington last Saturday and send the Lions home empty-handed.
“What a match last week’s game was,” Umaga said.
“It was a real tense affair and I think this suited the Lions more. “As we have seen in previous tight matches against the Maori & Crusaders, the Lions are tenacious and find ways of staying in the game although I would have to be honest and say that in this circumstance, playing against a 14-man All Black team aided the situation!!
“The referee got the call right on the Sonny Bill Williams hit, it was contact to the head and no use of the arms so in the law book that is a straight red!
“I spoke with my brother prior to the test and spoke of how I just couldn’t see where the Lions could edge the All Blacks’ anywhere?
“The Lions pack were said to be too strong but that certainly wasn’t the case in the first test.
“The scrums were even but I did think the All Blacks replacements put some pressure on the Lions in the last quarter and the Lions line out drive was well nullified.
“The ball carrying and defence by the All Black forwards was where the game was won and lost for me.”
Umaga expects New Zealand to clinch the series if they can keep 15 men on the pitch.
“I’m in the same position as I was prior to the second test and looking to see where the Lions may have an edge,” Umaga said.
“I know they broke the All Blacks’ line and scored but that was against 14 men.
“When Connor Murray went through to score, would that hole have been there if Kaino was on the field?
“And had Naholo not been “knocked out” would he have been able to manage Taulupe Faletau on the wing? Israel Dagg is a good defender but he’s not Waisake Naholo??
“With no changes to the Lions line up, there may also be no change to the way they’ll play.
“The All Blacks have made three changes and they all can deliver something different to what was on offer last week.
“As much as the romance of a long awaited Lions test series win in New Zealand would please a lot of people, I have to say that an All Blacks backlash is a thing of beauty to watch and I hope this happens because when they are firing on all cylinders, the rugby is some of the best you may ever witness.
“Kieron Read celebrates his 100th cap and he is definitely All Blacks’ talisman.
“He will be wanting to perform a lot better than he did last week too, by his own admission. Inspirational leader who the team will want to perform to their maximum for!
“A Lions series decider….it doesn’t get much bigger.
“The last time the Lions won a test series against New Zealand was 1971 and 46 years is a long time to have waited to beat a team.”
Prediction: All Blacks to win by 15