O’Mahony axed as Warburton returns to captain Lions and Gatland pairs Sexton and Farrell
Johnny Sexton will start at out-half for the Lions against New Zealand in Saturday’s pivotal second Test in Auckland, joining Owen Farrell in a 10/12 axis as Warren Gatland goes for broke in search of a series win.
The alteration to the tourists’ backline is one of three changes in the side Gatland was due to name last night with Peter O’Mahony carrying the can for the 30-15 defeat in the first Test.
As expected, last week’s captain has been dropped from the team in favour of tour skipper Sam Warburton as Gatland looks to add to his team’s fire-power at the breakdown. Indeed, he has been left out of the match-day 23, with his Munster colleague CJ Stander taking the No 20 shirt.
The third change sees Maro Itoje come into the side for George Kruis in a straight second-row swap. Kruis struggled badly last week as his side lost out in the physical stakes and his England colleague will be charged with taking the game to the world champions.
The inclusion of Itoje and Warburton had been well-flagged this week, but the starting role for Sexton will come as a surprise to many.
Ben Te’o misses out as a result of the change despite a powerful performance and the combination of Sexton and Farrell represents a change of tactic from Gatland.
Sexton started all three Tests in Australia four years ago, but was left on the bench for Saturday’s loss in Auckland, coming on when his team was chasing the game.
He struggled to link up with Farrell who was enduring an off-day, but Gatland has liked what he’s seen from the pair when they’ve played together and their partnership could signal an expansive approach from the tourists.
Te’o is on the bench for impact along with Jack Nowell and Courtney Lawes also included along with Stander in a group of replacements that seems braced for impact.
Meanwhile, All Black coach Steve Hansen has expressed his disappointment with the New Zealand Herald’s depiction of Gatland as a clown in a cartoon earlier this week.
The World Cup winner, who made two personnel changes to his starting XV for Saturday’s game – bringing Waisake Naholo on to the wing and Anton Lienert-Brown into the centre and shifting Israel Dagg across to full-back to replace Ben Smith, said he was “really disappointed” with the cartoon.
Hansen also ruled Smith out of the third Test even if he passes his concussion protocols.
Lions team to face New Zealand: L Williams; A Watson, J Davies, O Farrell, E Daly; J Sexton, C Murray; M Vunipola, J George, T Furlong; AW Jones, M Itoje; S Warburton (capt), S O’Brien, T Faletau. Reps: K Owens, J McGrath, K Sinckler, C Lawes, CJ Stander, R Webb, B Te’o, J Nowell.