Rory Best will captain the British and Irish Lions against the Chiefs, with Sam Warburton’s omission a boost in the Wales flanker’s bid for first Test selection.
Lions boss Warren Gatland has vowed to protect the potential squad for Saturday’s first All Blacks Test by keeping the brunt of that 23 out of the firing line against the Chiefs on Tuesday.
Tour skipper Warburton is scrapping for full fitness after ankle trouble – but Gatland holding him back from facing the Chiefs indicates the Wales back-rower can still squeeze himself into the 23 for the first Test.
Wales lock Alun Wyn Jones takes a seat on the bench and will be itching to respond after Maro Itoje and George Kruis so impressed in Saturday’s 32-10 win over the Maori All Blacks.
“We are five games into the Tour and there is still a lot to play for,” said Lions head coach Gatland.
Gatland’s selections reveal at least part of his plans for Saturday’s first Test against New Zealand at Auckland’s Eden Park.
The bulk of the side that ground the Maori All Blacks into submission on Saturday will now head the queue to face Steve Hansen’s New Zealand this weekend.
The Lions’ six mid-tour call-ups will all be on the bench for Tuesday’s Chiefs clash in Hamilton. Wales quartet Cory Hill, Kristian Dacey, Gareth Davies and Tomas Francis have made the short trip from Auckland to link up with the Lions.
Scotland’s Allan Dell and Finn Russell have jetted in from Australia and will also provide cover among the replacements.
“We are here to win a Test series and we have brought cover for the replacements bench so we can limit the number of players who need to double up, which is tough to do at this level of rugby,” said Gatland.
“We know it is going to be another big challenge against the Chiefs, who have won the Super Rugby title twice in the last five years.”
Tuesday’s clash will represent the last chance for any of those involved to change Gatland’s thinking ahead of the first All Blacks Test at Eden Park on Saturday.
The starting back three of Liam Williams, Jack Nowell and Elliot Daly could still be fighting it out for a seat on the bench for the Test opener.
Ireland’s bullish flanker CJ Stander will also want to press his own claims to be in the back-row picture for the Test.
But Peter O’Mahony, Sean O’Brien and Taulupe Faletau remain the favourites to start in the back row against the All Blacks.
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