All the talking stops when the British and Irish Lions take on the All Blacks in the first test at Eden Park tomorrow morning.
The build-up to the game has been dominated by the war of words between the two coaches, with claims of cheating increasing the tension between the sides.
What’s certain is that Saturday’s encounter will be an enthralling affair.
The Lions seem to be hitting form at the right time, with their ‘Test’ team overpowering the Crusaders in a 12-3 weeks a fortnight ago and then demolishing the New Zealand Maori 32-10 in the ‘unofficial fourth test’ last weekend.
The forwards will have to perform at a similar level if they are to stand any chance of defeating the All Blacks. The set-piece will be key, with the Lions expected to challenge and disrupt their opponents at the scrum and line-out.
With Maro Itoje on the bench, the Lions have a wealth of options in the pack. Itoje is expected to play a large part off the bench, acting as a super-sub in the later stages.
Gatland has picked an exciting backline as well, dropping his trusted duo of George North and Leigh Halfpenny for Elliot Daly and Liam Williams.
If the Lions are to win, they’ll need to score tries, and the starting back-three certainly possess the attacking flair to cross the whitewash. Back winger Elliot Daly to score at 5.50 with Sportsbet.io.
The less said about their opponents, the better. A formidable outfit, the All Blacks haven’t lost at home in 46 matches, and at Eden Park in 23 years.
Question marks exist over the fitness of captain Kieran Read, but a half-fit Read can still do enough damage to worry the Lions.
The Lions will do everything they can to stop Beauden Barrett, the world player of the year. The attacking threat of the fly-half was completely nullified six weeks ago in a Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and Hurricanes, and Lions coaches will have been dissecting the footage ever since.
I expect it to be a tight game on Saturday. The Lions have always been competitive in the opening 40 minutes of their tour matches and I can’t see the All Blacks running away with it early.
An upset at 4.50 with Sportsbet.io is certainly on the cards, however, the Lions need to execute the perfect gameplan.
A safer bet is Lions +10 handicap at 2.00 with Sportsbet.io, although this is dependent on what mood the All Blacks are in.