Liam Williams has shaken off a 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, 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 Lions will field an unchanged starting XV in a Test match for the first time since 1993, in bidding to end the All Blacks’ unbeaten run at Eden Park that stretches back to 1994.
“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, well aware the All Blacks have not lost a home Test series since 1986. “It is their chance to make Lions history.”
The ability to select pacy strike-runner Williams will be a relief to Gatland, who has appeared happy with the balance of the back three after moving the flyer into the 15 shirt for the Test series.
Williams did not complete yesterday’s training session, with Lions kicking coach Jenkins later insisting: “It’s probably precautionary, just a little bit of tightness.”
It was Williams’ gutsy break in the first Test that kick-started the 80-metre move for O’Brien’s stunning try, and made New Zealand aware of the Lions’ abilities and determination to play with width, pace and style. The Lions lost the opening Test 30-15 at Eden Park, where the All Blacks have now gone 39 games without defeat. But the tourists’ nerve-jangling second Test triumph has teed up the chance to register a first series win over the All Blacks since 1971.
Gatland admitted he was pleased to be able to select the exact same matchday 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,” he said. “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 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 matchday squad prepare the best they can for the Test match.
“We are all aware of how big this game is and we are expecting a backlash from the All Blacks. But the pleasing thing about the second Test is just how strong we were in the last 10 or 15 minutes, in terms of energy and enthusiasm, so we still feel there is another level in us.”
British and Irish Lions team to face New Zealand in Auckland on Saturday:
L Williams (Wales), A Watson (England), J Davies (Wales), O Farrell, E Daly (both England), J Sexton, C Murray (both Ireland), M Vunipola, J George (both England), T Furlong (Ireland), M Itoje (England), A W Jones, S Warburton (both Wales, capt), S O’Brien (Ireland), T Faletau (Wales).
Replacements: K Owens (Wales), J McGrath (Ireland), K Sinckler (England), C Lawes (England), CJ Stander (Ireland), R Webb (Wales), B Te’o, J Nowell (both England).