New Zealand v British and Irish Lions: Everything you need to know

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All eyes will be on fortress Eden Park on Saturday when New Zealand lock horns with the British and Irish Lions in the first Test.

Following years of planning, months of hype and plenty of trash talk in recent weeks, it will be down to the players to show that actions speak louder than words in Auckland.

The Lions face a monumental task in the three-match series and start at a famous stadium where the world champions have won their last 37 matches and are unbeaten since 1994.

New Zealand have only once lost a series against the Lions, going down 2-1 way back in 1971, and are firm favourites to demonstrate why they are the best team on the planet.

Yet Warren Gatland is optimistic that the tourists can defy the odds in his homeland and believes All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen is worried about the threat that the Lions pose.

Gatland picked Peter O'Mahony over tour captain Sam Warburton as the man to lead the Lions in the opener, while Alun Wyn Jones and Elliott Daly got the nod as the New Zealander left the likes of Maro Itoje, Jonathan Sexton and Leigh Halfpenny on the bench.

Hansen made a bold call of his own by giving Rieko Ioane a first start on the wing at the expense of Julian Savea, who will not feature at all, in what promises to be a gripping opening Test.

 

HEAD TO HEAD

New Zealand: 29
British and Irish Lions: 6 
Draw: 3

 

KEY PLAYERS

Beauden Barrett (New Zealand)

Barrett has established himself as the best player in the world after replacing the retired Dan Carter. If the outstanding fly-half and Aaron Smith are allowed to pull the strings, the All Blacks will take some containing. So dangerous with ball in hand and lethal with the boot, the Lions must find a way of stopping Barrett from showing his class. 

Liam Williams (British and Irish Lions)

Gatland made a big call in selecting Williams ahead of his Wales team-mate Leigh Halfpenny, who has a perfect record from the tee on tour and could have done little more to stake his claim against the Maori All Blacks last weekend. Williams caught the eye in the win over Chiefs, though, and the full-back is capable of producing moments of magic, which could make the difference.

 

THE LINE-UPS

New Zealand: Ben Smith, Israel Dagg, Ryan Crotty, Sonny Bill Williams, Rieko Ioane, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith; Joe Moody, Codie Taylor, Owen Franks, Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock, Jerome Kaino, Sam Cane, Kieran Read (captain).

British and Irish Lions: Liam Williams, Anthony Watson, Jonathan Davies, Beo Te'o, Elliott Daly, Owen Farrell, Conor Murray; Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, Tadhg Furlong, Alun Wyn Jones, George Kruis, Peter O'Mahony (captain), Sean O'Brien, Taulupe Faletau.

 

PRE-MATCH TALK

Kieran Read (New Zealand captain): "It will probably come down to the simple things done well. Our set-piece is pretty crucial. Most Tests are tight games, and these big occasions when there's plenty riding on it come down to a few moments, and to the team that essentially wins those tough battles."

Rob Howley (British and Irish Lions attack coach): "We are hugely looking forward to the challenge, everyone has been waiting for this event, it is a special game, the first in 12 years, with the unbeaten record at Eden Park, that is something we are looking to embrace and hopefully go out and play some rugby. It is just a game of rugby, trust your players to go out and play."

 

OPTA STATS

- The Lions have won the opening Test on three of their last five tours, having lost five opening Tests in a row before that.

- New Zealand have won 11 of the last 12 meetings between the sides, with the Lions' only win in that run coming in the second Test in 1993.

- The All Blacks have not lost at home so far this decade, winning 46 in a row on home soil since losing to South Africa in Hamilton in 2009.

- Ben Te'o tops the charts for metres gained (200), clean breaks (9), defenders beaten (14) and offloads (7) on this year's Lions tour.

- Since losing to France and drawing against South Africa in 1994, New Zealand have since won 37 games in a row at Eden Park. On only five occasions in that run have they failed to win by at least 10 points.