7 Jul 2017

Lions feel best game 'may be yet to come'

11:01 am on 7 July 2017

It's amazing that there is a sense of uncertainty at the outcome of the final Test between the Lions and All Blacks, Telegraph rugby correspondent Gavin Mairs says.

British and Irish Lions' Conor Murray during a training in Queenstown this week.

British and Irish Lions' Conor Murray during a training session in Queenstown this week. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Mairs has been in New Zealand for six weeks following the British and Irish Lions' tour and told Morning Report confidence among the team's supporters had increased since the start of the series, when the All Blacks were tipped to win 3-0.

"The most astounding thing to me is that we have got to the final match and there is a sense of uncertainty about the outcome.

He said that he had been with the team yesterday, and a few days off in Queenstown had allowed the players a much-needed chance to unwind from their demanding schedule.

"They've had a lovely little break in Queenstown where I think the players have come back feeling more than anything mentally refreshed," he said.

"And if players are mentally fresh, mentally alert and have the confidence of that second Test victory then it may just be enough.

"It will take something special but at this point just being with the Lions yesterday they just feel that their best performance even may yet still be to come, even with the tough schedule.

"I think most Lions supporters would have felt the All Blacks were the clear, clear favourites to win this series and yet we're going into this final match where there is, dare I say it, a little bit of quiet confidence that the Lions can actually get over the line."

That quiet confidence is reflected in Coach Warren Gatland's decision to leave the Lions' squad unchanged after their win over the All Blacks in Wellington last weekend. It is the first time since 1992 that the Lions have kept the same starting 23 for consecutive tests.

Former Irish rugby player Fergus Slattery was a flanker in the victorious 1971 Lions team that beat the All Blacks, and was captain for the team in the '74 and '79 tours.

He said his teams had the benefit of playing a number of matches ahead of the tour itself, but this Lions side had missed out on the chance to test their skills before facing the New Zealand teams.

"With the exception of the first game, they're too hard," he said.

"I think the other games should be watered down and I think [the Lions'] performance in the last test was terrific, but helped greatly by the fact that New Zealand had a player sent off and also by the fact that your goal kicker missed a couple of what would normally be regarded as kickable penalties.

The Lions side also was set to face what he said was the best rugby team on the planet.

"It's going to be difficult and hard for the Lions to beat New Zealand in this third Test game."

At the start of the series, Slattery predicted the All Blacks would win 2-1, and he still believes that will be the final result.

"The gap has closed with each of the test matches in the Lions' favour, but New Zealand is still ahead. I think New Zealand is 55-45, the Lions being 45 percent chance, New Zealand being 55 percent chance."

Mairs agreed that the game would "come down to the finest of margins".

"It will take something special, but this has been a special series."

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs