Saturday 16 December 2017

Lions team for New Zealand Maori match will be closest yet to Test XV

Sam Warburton and Sean O'Brien are competing for the number 7 shirt
Sam Warburton and Sean O'Brien are competing for the number 7 shirt

Gavin Mairs

The British and Irish Lions have confirmed that their starting XV to face the New Zealand Maori will be the closest selection yet to their Test side to face the All Blacks.

Warren Gatland, the Lions head coach, has delayed naming his side because of a late selection meeting on Wednesday night suggesting they still have to resolve a number of positions following the 23-22 defeat by the Highlanders on Tuesday.

Neil Jenkins, the Lions assistant coach, however said the selection would be very close to the side that will take the field against the All Blacks at Eden Park in Auckland on June 24.

The All Blacks are also due to name their side on Thursday to face Samoa in the Test match in Auckland on Friday.

“The reality is that whatever side we pick on Saturday, it will be strong,” said Jenkins. “It won't be far off what will be playing a week on Saturday. There are couple of players here and there, but the team will be strong.

“It's getting closer and the team have to play. It will be quite interesting on the weekend from both the All Blacks point of view and ours.”

“It will be quite interesting on the weekend from both the All Blacks point of view and ours.

“We know it’s going to be incredibly tough (against the Maori), we just need to perform for longer. Replicate a bit what we did against the Crusaders. Some fantastic rugby mixed in with some poor rugby, poor decisions as well.

“If we can bring the clinical side to things as well we can certainly have a good chance on Saturday. It's a big game for us, to gain momentum for the Test match.”

Sam Warburton is one of the Test contenders who is unlikely to start against the Maori side having captained the tourists against the Highlanders. The Wales flanker played for 68 minutes in Dunedin, having missed the games against the Blues and Crusaders with an ankle injury.

It is likely that Gatland will consider naming Warburton on the bench on Saturday however given his captain’s desperate need for game time having missed the end of the domestic season with a knee injury.

“It was certainly better from Warby, and it was nice for him to get a run-out last night,” Jenkins added.

“There were quite a few turnovers and carried quite a few ballls. For Same it's just about keeping getting game time if he can.

“I don't know what the outcome will be on the weekend, but it was a big improvement from him, and the more game time he plays the better he's going to be.

“Sam's a top-end player, a quality, world-class seven, but again it's the same as anything, you need to be playing to keep getting yourself back up to the levels that you need to.

“Warby would be the first to be admitting that, there's no doubting that, but he had a much, much better game last night and he'll keep improving, there's no doubt.”

Courtney Lawes is unlikely to be available for selection until at least the first Test as he must undergo a minimum six-day return-to-play protocol after appearing to suffer concussion after a collision with Highlanders wing Waisake Naholo as the All Blacks charged towards the line to score the first try of the game.

Jonathan Davies, the Wales centre, however is expected to return to the side having gone through the concussion protocols after sustained a head injury against the Crusaders while Ross Moriarty is also likely to be fit again from a back spasm.

“Both are obviously back in training, Jonathan is still going through protocols from his HIA but hopefully he'll be back in training tomorrow and we'll see from there,” Jenkins added.

“Ross has been back in training doing a little bit of running in training, and stuff hopefully they’ll both be available for Saturday.”

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