Sports

Blacklash 
or British pride at Eden Park?

A rugby fever unmatched since the 2011 World Cup final has gripped Auckland as the city readies for a winner-takes-all showdown between the All Blacks and the British and Irish Lions today.

Up to 30,000 Lions fans travelled to New Zealand for the six-week tour and they have invaded the city in readiness for the third and deciding Test at Eden Park.

Convoys of mobile homes have converged at specially created camp sites in the city's two racecourses and Air New Zealand has reported a surge in bookings to Auckland for the occasion.

In bars and restaurants, red shirts prevail as groups of visiting fans make the most of local hospitality, often chanting support for the composite rugby team - featuring the best players from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland - that visit New Zealand only once every 12 years.

The Lions tour every four years, alternating between New Zealand, Australia and South Africa.

All Blacks fan David Paul rated the match's importance alongside the back-to-back World Cups won by New Zealand in Britain in 2015 and on home soil at Eden Park in 2011.

"This is a big game for New Zealand as a country, up there with the last two World Cups," he said.

"We've got to be confident given our record at Eden Park... but I'm expecting a very tight game."

The 50,000 capacity Eden Park is a fortress for the All Blacks, who have not lost there in 39 Test matches over 23 years since France beat them 23-20 in July 1994.

Assistant coach Rob Howley said yesterday that the British and Irish Lions are ready to "create history" at Eden Park, but know they will need to improve in every facet of the game to beat the All Blacks in the decisive third Test.

Howley said the 24-21 win in Wellington last weekend had instilled a sense of belief in the side that they can become the first Lions team since 1971 to win a Test series in New Zealand.

He said: "There has been a glint in their eyes since Saturday night in Wellington - that glint hasn't gone away because they know they can create history on the weekend.

"And that is the challenge and the realisation of where we are at this moment in time."

The last time the All Blacks faced a game of this magnitude at Eden Park was the 2011 World Cup final where they edged France 8-7.

All Blacks captain Kieran Read downplayed a personal milestone of earning his 100th test cap and was more keen on orchestrating a Blacklash after last week's defeat in Wellington.

"We weren't really happy with the way we played last week so certainly we've got to make a change... the boys are pretty confident with what we've got in our group," he said.

"There's not much panic, that's the biggest thing. There's a few guys who are used to it so you have to just impart your knowledge on what these moments mean to teams.

"As a rugby player, these are the moments that you want to be involved in on the biggest stage." - WIRE SERVICES

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