Lions bench Warburton for Maori All Blacks

Thu, 15 Jun 2017 05:03

TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT: Tour captain Sam Warburton has been relegated to the bench for the British and Irish Lions clash against the Maori All Blacks on Saturday, just a week before the first Test.

Munster and Ireland's Peter O'Mahony will take over as captain for a match the tourists regard as an "unofficial fourth Test".

Warburton led the Lions to a disappointing 22-23 loss to the Highlanders midweek and coach Warren Gatland opted instead to hand flank O'Mahony the skipper's armband.

"Peter is a proven captain with Munster," Gatland said ahead of the match in Rotorua.

"He never takes a backward step and we believe that those leadership qualities will serve us well on Saturday against a quality and determined Maori All Blacks team."

The Irishman is the fourth player to captain the Lions on tour after Warburton, Ken Owens and Alun Wyn Jones.

The tourists are looking to bounce back after their second defeat of the tour and Gatland's selection against the Maori team is expected to be close to his first-choice Test side.

If it is, then losing the Test captaincy would be a huge blow to Warburton, who led the Lions to a series win in Australia in 2013 but has struggled for form recently after a run of injuries.

Gatland has shown previously that he will not shy away from big selection calls, famously dropping Irish legend Brian O'Driscoll for the series decider in 2013 and causing outrage in the Emerald Isle.

He has opted for an all-Irish combination at nine and 10 against the Maori, with Jonathan Sexton starting ahead of Owen Farrell at flyhalf and Conor Murray at scrumhalf.

The starting side includes 11 players who started in the Lions' gutsy 12-3 win over the Crusaders, their most impressive display on tour so far.

"We need to play like we did last Saturday against the Crusaders," assistant coach Neil Jenkins said.

"We're a week out from the first Test so Saturday's game against the Maori is huge for us, it's like an unofficial fourth Test match."

Leigh Halfpenny replaces the injured Stuart Hogg at fullback, while Liam Williams makes way for Anthony Watson on the wing.

However, lock Wyn Jones, who captained against the Crusaders, did not even make the matchday 23, with Gatland preferring England's Maro Itoje in the second row backed by Iain Henderson on the bench.

Farrell kicked the Lions to victory against the Crusaders, but may be paying the price for a late missed penalty against the Highlanders when a frustrated Gatland said his men "shot ourselves in the foot".

He has made clear that the three-Test series against the All Blacks is the main priority and other tour matches are a means to improve before facing the world champions. 

"We were obviously disappointed with the loss against the Highlanders and realise that we need to improve in several areas, including our discipline," Gatland said.

"But we feel that overall we are building well towards the Test matches."

British and Irish Lions: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Ben Te'o, 11 George North, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Sean O'Brien, 6 Peter O'Mahony (captain), 5 George Kruis, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Jamie George, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Sam Warburton, 21 Greig Laidlaw, 22 Owen Farrell, 23 Elliot Daly.

Date: Saturday, June 17
Venue: International Stadium, Rotorua
Kick-off: 19.35 (08.35 UK & Ireland time; 07.35 GMT)
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Jérôme Garcès (France), Romain Poite (France)
TMO: Ian Smith (Australia)

Agence France-Presse

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