Peter O’Mahony will captain the British and Irish Lions in Saturday’s first Test against New Zealand.
The Ireland flanker has won selection ahead of tour skipper Sam Warburton, who takes a seat on the bench for the weekend’s Eden Park clash.
Saturday’s Auckland showdown now becomes the first time a tour captain has not led the Lions in an opening Test since England’s Doug Prentice missed out in 1930.
Liam Williams has been preferred to Leigh Halfpenny at full-back, while Elliot Daly starts on the left-wing in an attacking back three.
“We have picked a side based on form with a lot of players putting their hands up, especially from the Crusaders and Maori All Blacks games, and it was a lively selection meeting,” said Lions head coach Warren Gatland.
“The win against the Chiefs was also extremely important for the squad and some players played themselves into the side.
“We have continuously been strong at set-piece and have been good defensively in the last two or three outings.
“But to beat the All Blacks you have to be courageous and play some rugby – you have to score tries and I think we have picked a team capable of doing that.”
Cardiff and Wales flanker Warburton has scrambled for full match sharpness ever since suffering an ankle problem in the tour-opening 13-7 win over the Provincial Barbarians.
So now Munster’s ferocious back-rower O’Mahony will captain the Lions in a Test match – just three months after he was named only on the bench for Ireland’s closing Six Nations match against England.
O’Mahony has spent the last 18 months battling persistent knee problems, but has forced a resurgence since the end of the season.
That was all kick-started when Jamie Heaslip suffered a back injury in the warm-up to the March 18 clash with England in Dublin. The Aviva Stadium crowd cheered loudly when the announcer revealed O’Mahony would replace the injured Heaslip in Ireland’s starting line-up.
Joe Schmidt’s men went on to dispatch England 13-9, denying the visitors a second straight grand slam and ending their record-winning run at 18 games. And O’Mahony excelled throughout that feisty win for the Irish.
The pack that suffocated the runaway Super Rugby leaders the Crusaders 12-3 in Christchurch starts the first Test, with Warburton primed to join the fray from the bench.
Gatland hailed his starting loose-forward trio for excelling across the tour so far.
“It’s a reward for how the back row has gone,” said Gatland.
“There is a nice balance there while Peter captained the side against the Maori All Blacks and has done a good job.”
Halfpenny’s omission from the starting XV suggests that fly-half Owen Farrell – fit after a thigh injury scare – will kick at goal, though Wasps star Daly boasts a strong long-range kicking option.
Daly’s strong showing in the 34-6 win over the Chiefs on Tuesday night appears to have swayed Gatland’s mind to start him for the first Test, with Saracens-bound Williams also having impressed in Hamilton at full-back.
“Elliot has been very accurate in the way he has played and we saw some excellent attacking play from Liam on Tuesday night,” said Gatland.
“We are excited about the 15 that take the field but also the very strong and experienced bench players who will have an impact.”
Jack Nowell scored a double as the Lions ended their mid-week slump with a convincing 34-6 win over the Chiefs at Waikato Stadium.
Here, we take a look at five things we learned from the match in Hamilton.
Before the tour began live-wire English flyer Jack Nowell would have been tipped as one of the test wingers but to date so far on the tour his form has been poor. But against the Chiefs the Exeter man finally delivered with a non-stop two try performance. It’s too late for Nowell to force his way into the first Test side but if he can keep this up he may feature later in the series.
There are just a couple of bench spots left up for grabs for Auckland on Saturday and England utility Elliot Daly looks to have fought off the challenges of Jack Nowell and Liam Williams for the back three reserve. His consistency under the high ball, huge goal-kicking boot and counter-attacking skills looks to have given Daly the edge for the Test bench. His ability to play at centre also helps.
For the second game in a row the Lions kept the Kiwis try-less and this is all credit to defence coach Andy Farrell. The Lions’ swarming defence and line speed completely shut down the Chiefs dangerous attacking weapons, just as they did against the Maori on Saturday. The challenge now goes up a level against the devastating All Blacks but confidence as a defensive unit will be building in the Lions camp.
Towering lock Courtney Lawes may be the most unlucky player in the Lions squad to miss out on the Test 23. Lawes has done nothing wrong all tour and was superb against the Chiefs with nine carries, seven tackles and four line-out wins in a stand out performance. But with Kruis and Itoje the starting locks, Gatland will probably opt for experience on Saturday giving the bench lock spot to Welsh veteran Alun Wyn Jones.
Where many other coaches would have cracked under the pressure, especially after the losses to the Blues and the Highlanders, Warren Gatland has kept his cool superbly on tour even finding the verve to fire a few shots at the All Blacks himself this week about obstruction runners. Gatland has simply blocked out the white noise and kept his eyes on the prize – a Test series victory – something almost impossible to do in New Zealand.
Jack Nowell scored a sparkling try double as the British and Irish Lions ended their mid-week slump in style with a 34-6 win over the Waikato Chiefs Tuesday, just four days ahead of the first All Blacks Test.
In Hamilton, home town of Lions coach Warren Gatland, the tourists scored four tries and stopped the Chiefs from crossing the line, providing a morale booster for Gatland’s men as the opening Test looms on Saturday.
While the team to play the All Blacks in Auckland is probably already settled, plenty of the Lions’ second-stringers put their hands up to feature later in the Test series.
The result ended a sequence of mid-week defeats as the Lions, who earlier lost to the Auckland Blues and Otago Highlanders, starved the Chiefs of attacking opportunities.
Nowell’s second try showed the tourists can also play with flair, as they took the ball the length of the field and through 10 pairs of hands before the Englishman swerved past two defenders to finish.
It was a potential banana-skin match for Gatland, as Hamilton has proved a graveyard for international teams in the past.
Gatland himself was a hooker for Waikato when they humbled the Lions 38-10 in 1993 and he even scored a try against the team he now coaches.
He was on the other side of the scoreline last year when the Chiefs thrashed his Wales side 40-7 in a tour match.
Before the match, the Chiefs performed a haka in front of the sell-out 30,000 crowd.
The Lions made a promising start in clear conditions, going on the attack after Courtney Lawes stole a Chiefs lineout ball.
But the failure to convert chances that has dogged the tour returned as they worked it through 20 phases, only to fail when Liam Williams knocked on.
Poor discipline could have also cost them when Harlequins prop Joe Marler was sin-binned for a late tackle, but his replacement Alan Dell excelled.
Winger Nowell dived a pile of bodies to score the first try of the match in the 25th minute after some eye-catching build-up play from Williams and Dan Biggar.
The tourists enjoyed 58 percent of possession and 63 percent of territory in the first half, although a penalty from Chiefs’ skipper Stephen Donald narrowed their lead to 13-6 going into the break.
The Lions worked the ball through 16 phases after the restart but again failed to score and they were lucky not to concede as the Chiefs showed some quicksilver passing during their rare periods of possession.
But Lions’ pressure paid off when they were awarded a penalty try after the Chiefs collapsed their maul for the third time.
Chiefs heads dropped after Nowell’s slickly taken try and Jared Payne soon added another when Williams caught the defence napping with a quick restart to set him up and confirm the big win.