Beyond question Hastings's team, the first choice as opposed to most of the seconds who surrendered to Hawke's Bay on Tuesday, have it in them to square the series. Remember, the Blacks won the first 20-18 only with Grant Fox's last-minute penalty.
Hastings is struggling to recover from a hamstring injury and if his Lions fail there will be no way back, so yet another British Isles side will have come here with exaggerated hopes and had them dashed. It has been an all too familiar experience, bearing in mind that only the 1971 Lions have taken a series in New Zealand.
The Hawke's Bay humiliation marked the tour's nadir and could not have been worse timed, no matter how irrelevant people from the Lions and All Blacks camps are trying to make it seem. It certainly was not irrelevant for the triers who were striving for a Test place only to be let down by their team-mates.
The upshot was that only Jason Leonard of the midweekers was in the Test team named yesterday - and he is out of position at tight-head prop after winning his 25 England caps on the loose head. 'I have no doubt about my ability to handle the All Blacks scrum,' he said.
Leonard's inclusion in place of Paul Burnell is one of four changes from the beaten first-Test team, the Londoner winning favour for his line-out support-work as much as anything else. He does not intend making the switch permanent. 'I know how I'd feel if, as a tight head, I'd lost my place to the No 2 loose head,' he said last night in commiseration.
He will be joined in the front row by the England hooker, Brian Moore, instead of Kenny Milne. Martin Johnson, who was originally omitted from the tour party in favour of the Scots pair, Andy Reed and Damian Cronin, displaces Reed at lock and in the backs Scott Gibbs fully merits his chance in Will Carling's inside-centre place.
The severing of the bond between the England captain and Geoff Cooke, his national and Lions manager, is hugely symbolic, though Carling's only bad performance on tour was as an emergency full-back against Auckland and he played well in adversity against Hawke's Bay.
Gibbs, on the other hand, has been one of the two unmitigated successes of the tour and could well have been preferred to Carling in the first Test but for injury. Ben Clarke is the other, again figuring at blind-side flanker rather than No 8, though he has played so superbly everywhere in the back row that to say he is out of position is hardly accurate.
Nevertheless, his and Leonard's selections demonstrate that those who came as tight heads - Burnell and Peter Wright - and blind sides - Mike Teague and Mick Galwey - have not matched up and were therefore dubious choices in the first place. Likewise with Cronin and Reed. In next to no time Johnson, who made the trip only when Wade Dooley went home, has shown himself a vastly superior forward to the Scottish pair.
Now the question the Lions must answer is whether they have the mental toughness of an All Black to go with undoubted ability; in other words, the twin capacity to keep going for 80 minutes and to keep hold of a game when it seems to be slipping away. At least they know from the first Test that the Blacks are as fallible as they are.
And if the Lions care for a parallel to give them encouragement after the psychological hammer-blow of the Hawke's Bay game, they need look no further than New Zealand's own experience in Australia 11 months ago when they lost to Sydney 40-17, the worst defeat in All Black history.
'It's very similar,' Sean Fitzpatrick, the New Zealand captain, said yesterday. 'We went into the third Test with people saying we were in disarray, but in terms of building the team up it probably helped.'
The All Blacks won that Test after losing the first two. 'We know the Lions are going to throw everything at us,' Fitzpatrick added. 'Tours are remembered by Test matches and no one cares who wins the provincial games.'
Which is roughly how the Lions have been portraying it - since they began losing provincial games, anyway. It is true, though, that a Lions victory tomorrow will instantly expunge the memory of Otago, Auckland and especially Hawke's Bay. After all, British Isles sides have won precisely five Tests in New Zealand in 89 years of trying.
This is why this match is of such overwhelming significance to the 11 Englishmen, two Welshmen, one Scot (the first to captain England since Mike Denness?) and one Irishman who make up tomorrow's Lions, more significant even than the 1991 World Cup final against the Wallabies to the half-dozen of this side's Englishmen who played then.
'It's the biggest game any of us will have played in our lives,' Hastings, passed fit along with Dean Richards (calf) yesterday, said. 'I'm absolutely convinced we will win. I do not contemplate failure.' In fact he dare not contemplate failure.
NEW ZEALAND: J Timu (Otago); J Kirwan (Auckland), F Bunce (North Harbour), E Clarke, V Tuigamala; G Fox (Auckland), J Preston (Wellington); C Dowd, S Fitzpatrick (capt), O Brown, R Brooke (Auckland), M Cooksley (Counties), J Joseph (Otago), Z Brooke, M Jones (Auckland). Replacements: M Cooper (Waikato), A Strachan (North Harbour), M Allen (Taranaki), G Dowd (North Harbour), I Jones (North Auckland), A Pene (Otago).
BRITISH ISLES: G Hastings (Scotland, capt); I Evans (Wales), J Guscott (England), S Gibbs (Wales), R Underwood; R Andrew, D Morris (England); N Popplewell (Ireland), B Moore, J Leonard (England), M Johnson, M Bayfield, B Clarke, D Richards, P Winterbottom (England). Replacements: A Clement (Wales), S Barnes (England), R Jones (Wales), P Burnell (Scotland), K Milne (Scotland), M Teague (England).
Referee: P Robin (France).Reuse content