AUCKLAND • 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.
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 today.
Convoys of mobile homes have parked at specially created camp sites in the city's two racecourses and Air New Zealand has reported a surge in bookings into 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 that only visit New Zealand once every 12 years.
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The Lions are confident they are on the verge of a historic victory.
"You can see a glint in the players' eyes," said Lions assistant coach Rob Howley, talking up the huge shift in momentum in the fortnight since they lost the first Test.
"There's been a glint in their eyes since Wellington and that glint hasn't gone away because they know they can create history on the weekend."
There's been a glint in their eyes since Wellington (winning the second Test) and that glint hasn't gone away because they know they can create history on the weekend.
ROB HOWLEY, British and Irish Lions coach, feels the team are ready to write their names in the record books.
The All Blacks are under intense pressure to atone for the second Test defeat and avoid becoming only the second New Zealand side to lose a series to the Lions.
"You come off a loss and there's a bit of an edge around and guys want to get back out there and have another crack and fortunately we've got that opportunity," All Blacks captain Kieran Read said.
"The reality is we know what's coming up. It's a three-match series and this was always going to be the case if we lost one of those first two games."
Howley added that the Lions had some surprises in store for the All Blacks.
"We've got some plays up our sleeve that we've continually worked off the field in terms of the pictures and shapes we've seen defensively from the All Blacks," he said.
"It's the final game. It's 1-1 in the series. By the very nature of the game, there's not going to be too many chances.
"We've spoken about it being a World Cup final. There may be one or two chances and we have to take them.
"When you play New Zealand, the point of difference is the front five, it's the skill set, it's the energy and what they bring and at this moment in time, we think we're matching them."
The last time the All Blacks faced a game of this magnitude at Eden Park was the 2011 World Cup final where they scraped home over France 8-7.
Read, along with Israel Dagg, Aaron Cruden, Jerome Kaino, Sam Whitelock and Owen Franks played in that match, and Read said their experience has been crucial in this week's build-up.
"There's not much panic, that's the biggest thing," Read said.
"As a rugby player, these are the moments that you want to be involved in on the biggest stage."
ALL BLACKS V BRITISH & IRISH LIONS
StarHub Ch217, 3.30pm