Farrell injury blow opens door for Sexton to face Maoris
The Lions' preparations for the first Test against New Zealand tomorrow week have been disrupted by an injury to nailed-on starter Owen Farrell who has been withdrawn from the clash with the Maori All Blacks.
The English out-half was due to deputise for Johnny Sexton in Rotorua tomorrow, but he damaged his quad muscle and the Grade 1 injury means he is in a race to be fit for the Eden Park clash.
That means Sexton has been thrust to centre stage, two weeks after he last started and was hauled off early in the opening game against the Provincial Barbarians. He has used two subsequent replacement appearances to rebuild his confidence and lining up beside Conor Murray against a strong Maori side he has a real chance to retain the starting Test shirt he wore throughout the series in 2013.
"Johnny continues to need some more rugby and we are building him towards that," Gatland said at the team announcement when the full extent of Farrell's issue was not in the public domain.
Seamless "He was really good off the bench against the Crusaders and the combination of No's 10 and 12 was seamless. He knows his games before that weren't his best, the Barbarians game and the PRO12 semi-final, he was down a bit on confidence but he's got his mojo back and we wanted to give him a start."
The Lions will be led by Munster captain Peter O'Mahony tomorrow morning and Warren Gatland has challenged the flanker to put his hand up to lead the side in the opening Test next weekend.
With Sam Warburton not guaranteed his place in the Test team as he chases fitness and tries to break into the starting trio of O'Mahony, Seán O'Brien and Taulupe Faletau, the captaincy is up for grabs. Alun Wyn Jones would be the next in line, but his place is in doubt as Maro Itoje starts alongside George Kruis in the second-row.
"We'll see how he goes on Saturday," Gatland said of O'Mahony's chances. "Sam's well aware of the competition that is there at the moment. He fully understands that that loose forward trio went outstandingly well against the Crusaders."