All Black tensions start to show as Lions march on Auckland
There have been reports of scuffles in training and travelling fans are expected to outnumber home supporters at Eden Park
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has denied claims that his players have been fighting in training on account of the pressure they're under ahead of the mammoth third Test against the British and Irish Lions.
"Yeah, I read that one," said Hansen, when asked about the reports. "I don't know where it came from. I've read a few things this morning that have just come out of nowhere, and that's one of them. There were no fights at training."
Despite his claims, Hansen will know where the claim come from - All Black legend Sean Fitzpatrick. The former captain of New Zealand, now a TV pundit for Sky Sports, told the broadcaster of the tension within the Kiwi camp as they prepare for tomorrow's decisive third Test, reports The Independent.
The All Blacks are at home in Auckland, where they are unbeaten since 1994, but as the Daily Telegraph reports there will be more than 20,000 Lions fans in the stadium roaring on the tourists.
Lose and the All Blacks will become only the second New Zealand side in history to suffer a series defeat against the Lions. And it appears the pressure is getting to the world champions. "I've spoken to a couple of the guys, the tension is quite high," said Fitzpatrick. "There's been a couple of little scuffles at training… but they are under a little bit of pressure, for the first time in a long while."
The All Blacks aren't used to losing (they've suffered five defeats in the 71 Tests they've played under Hansen) and the last time they lost back-to-back Test matches at home was in 1998 against South Africa and a week later Australia. According to Fitzpatrick, a member of the New Zealand that beat the 1993 Lions 2-1 in the series, the All Blacks "need to go back to the basics of how to get the game going again".
That's how the Lions won last week's second Test in Wellington, by disrupting their opponents' rhythm and not allowing them to get going, and the fact the tourists have chosen the same side for the third Test indicates there won't be a change of strategy at Eden Park.
Sam Warburton is bidding to become the first captain to lead the Lions to two Test series wins and the Welshman has told Sky Sports that Saturday's Test "is definitely the biggest challenge we have had in all of our careers".
Rating it more important even than World Cup knockout matches, Warburton said: "If we win it will be a career highlight for every single man, not just for the 41, but also the management.
"They have all been through the same emotions as the players. It's a massive, massive team effort, and so if we win it, it definitely will be up there as the pinnacle of our careers."
Asked if he was aware of the history at stake on Saturday, Warburton said: "You are obviously aware that if you win it is huge in rugby history… but you don't really try and think too much. The main thing you think about is your own individual role, what you've got to get right to make sure your cog in the team turns properly. If everyone can do that as a collective then you will be good."