AUCKLAND (Reuters) - Irish flanker Peter O‘Mahony will captain an experienced British and Irish Lions team for the match against the Maori All Blacks on Saturday but tour skipper Sam Warburton gets another chance to press his claim for a test spot from the bench.
Warburton arrived on tour under an injury cloud having not played since April due to a knee injury and only returned to action in the opening match against the Provincial Barbarians, a 13-7 victory.
The Welsh flanker scored a try in Tuesday’s loss to the Otago Highlanders but will be hoping for plenty of gametime to impress in Rotorua on Saturday given the back row talent coach Warren Gatland has available to him.
Gatland was expected to select close to his first choice side for the fifth match of the tour with the first test against the All Blacks only a week away.
If that is the case, then the New Zealander will clearly be looking to dominate the hosts physically in midfield after naming Jonathan Davies and Ben Te‘o in the centres.
Jonny Sexton also returned at flyhalf in an all-Irish combination with scrumhalf Connor Murray, while England’s Owen Farrell will be on the bench.
The hulking George North and pacy Anthony Watson will occupy the wings with Leigh Halfpenny named at fullback, a position that might have been taken by Stuart Hogg had the Scot not been ruled out of the tour by injury on Tuesday.
In the pack, England duo George Kruis and Maro Itoje will make up the second row with their international team mate Jamie George getting the nod at hooker.
“At this stage of the tour it is important to build on the foundations that have been laid in the last few weeks,” Gatland said in a news release.
”We were obviously disappointed with the loss against the Highlanders and realise that we need to improve in several areas, including our discipline, but we feel that overall we are building well towards the test matches.
“Every game is a big challenge, which is what we wanted, and this is an experienced Lions team with eight of the starting 15 involved in the last test in Australia in 2013.”
O‘Mahony will lead the team from the blindside of the scrum with his Irish team mate Sean O‘Brien at openside and Welshman Taulupe Faletau in the number eight jersey.
“Peter is a proven captain with Munster who 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,” Gatland added.
Lions: 15-Leigh Halfpenny, 14-Anthony Watson, 13-Jonathan Davies, 12-Ben Te‘o, 11-George North, 10-Johnny 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.
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury, writing by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by Ian Ransom