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'This group of players, they have an opportunity to leave a bit of a legacy'

Warren Gatland wants his Lions squad to seize their shot at history.

Murray Kinsella reports from Auckland

THE LIONS FIND themselves in a position many predicted was beyond their reach, heading into the final Test against the All Blacks with the series on the line.

The excitement levels in New Zealand are immense, with the most rugby-loving nation in the world embracing the winner-takes-all nature of Saturday’s meeting at Eden Park.

Warren Gatland There was heavy rain in Auckland on Thursday. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

There are nerves among the Kiwi rugby family too, after the All Blacks let last weekend’s opportunity to seal the series slip, Sonny Bill Williams’ first-half red card costing them as the Lions made a late surge to grab victory.

While the All Blacks remain the firm favourites to secure the series this weekend, Lions head coach Warren Gatland has urged his players to feed off their opportunity to do something that has only been done once before, in 1971.

“This group of players, they have an opportunity to leave a bit of a legacy,” said Gatland in Auckland on Thursday. “There have been 11 Lions tours of New Zealand and only one has ever been won. So they have the chance to do something special.

“You get those moments in your life and you don’t want those moments to pass you by and that’s what big occasions and big sporting events are about.

“As the match gets closer, the players will start to realise what potentially could happen and what a special moment that could be, winning a series in New Zealand, creating a legacy and creating history for themselves and doing something special.”

The 1971 Lions certainly left their mark on New Zealand, with their series success featuring some excellent attacking rugby that had a major influence on the long-term development of that aspect of Kiwi play.

Gatland believes his Lions have surprised some of the locals with their own brand of rugby, but he feels that a legacy will be created predominantly by winning.

“I think we were conscious coming to New Zealand that we wanted to be seen as good tourists both on and off the field,” said Hansen. “I’d like to think we’ve done that.

Jonathan Sexton talks to the squad Johnny Sexton speaks to the squad at training today. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“People tried to pigeonhole us that we were going to play a pretty direct, boring game, but I think we’ve played some great rugby. We know we’ve stressed the All Blacks at times and scored some great tries.

“As a team, we feel we’ve got better in the time we’ve had together. It’s been tough but the atmosphere has been phenomenal. Seeing the support we’ve had from the UK and Ireland has just been incredible – I hope both sets of fans have enjoyed that.

“It just shows how special the Lions are and it’s something we need to protect for the future.

“But you always want to end up as a winner. So for us, the focus is on winning the series. That was our ultimate goal. It was having the confidence and belief when we got on the plane that we were good enough to win, even though we were written off from day one.”

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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