Hansen: Clash with British and Irish Lions like World Cup final
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen compared today's first Test with the British and Irish Lions to a World Cup final, as they prepare to take on a touring party that has been growing in confidence and form.
The Lions have shaken off a slow start to their tour to develop into a formidable force, but they now face the task of handing the world champions their first defeat at Auckland's Eden Park in 23 years.
When the Lions last visited in 2005, New Zealand "blackwashed" the series 3-0, continuing a run that has seen them win 29 of 38 Tests dating back to 1904.
The latest edition will be a classic clash of northern and southern hemisphere styles, contrasting game plans, and different rule interpretations under South African referee Jaco Peyper.
The tactics will be intriguing, with England lock George Kruis saying the Lions will "try anything" to gain an advantage, including screaming in the lineouts to upset the All Blacks.
"You've got to put pressure on players somehow and that's one way of putting pressure on them," he said.
The All Blacks are confident their speed and sleight-of-hand offloads will get them through the Lions defence.
The Lions are about power, kick and chase and, as their tour has rumbled on, a shadow Test team, formed for game three when they beat the Canterbury Crusaders, have developed into a class unit.
It is a Test that will be intensely physical at the breakdown and it remains unpredictable whether the All Blacks' attacking flair or the Lions' grunt will prevail.
"They've selected a side that's capable of playing a different type of game than we play and that itself is intriguing, and going to be interesting to see the result once it's been played out," Hansen said.
From the Lions squad that beat the Crusaders, 19 of the 23 remain for the Test, including 13 of the run-on side.
Along the way, they have finetuned a powerful scrum and lineout, and defensive line speed that stifled both the free-scoring Crusaders and Maori All Blacks, conceding only one try.
In Conor Murray, they have a kicking scrum-half who can land the ball on a sixpence.
But coach Warren Gatland has also indicated he is open to instinctive play, highlighted by the selection of the attacking Liam Williams, Elliot Daly and Anthony Watson as his back three.
"To play the All Blacks, you have to be bold, you have to take risks," Gatland said.