Peter O'Mahony leads Lions as Warren Gatland springs back three surprise
PETER O’MAHONY will lead the Lions into their daunting first Test battle with New Zealand on Saturday, but Johnny Sexton will have to bide his time on the bench after Warren Gatland opted for the ballast of Ben Te’o in his midfield.
And the head coach has kept some surprises in store this evening as he decided to retain two of the back-three that cut the Chiefs open during Tuesday’s midweek game in Hamilton, leaving Leigh Halfpenny and George North out with Liam Williams at full-back and Elliot Daly on the left wing.
Alun-Wyn Jones, who skippered the Lions in the successful series decider in 2013, has been handed a surprise start ahead of Maro Itoje, but Gatland has retained O’Mahony as skipper after he led the side to last weekend’s win over the Maori All Blacks.
The Cork Constitution and Munster man has timed his run perfectly having missed out on selection for most of Ireland’s Six Nations games, only getting a start when Jamie Heaslip injured his back in the build-up to the final clash with England. A late call-up, the Munster skipper was man of the match and hasn’t looked back.
With tour captain Sam Warburton unable to force his way into an in-form back-row of O’Mahony, Sean O’Brien and Taulupe Faletau.
Elsewhere, Gatland’s team is as expected with Tadhg Furlong re-uniting with his four Saracens colleagues in the front-row, with Jones joining George Kruis in the second-row.
Conor Murray partnering Owen Farrell at half-back, while Te’o is joined by Jon Davies in a powerful midfield and the collisions between the dual-code international and his old league rival Sonny Bill Williams will be a highlight.
With North and Halfpenny out, the back-three has an attacking look to it with Williams and Daly joined by English speedster Anthony Watson.
Sexton is joined on the bench by his fellow Leinster man Jack McGrath, but CJ Stander and Iain Henderson miss out as Warburton covers the back-row and Itoje primed to add impact in the engine room.
Lions: Liam Williams, Anthony Watson, Jonathan Davies, Ben Te’o, Elliot Daly, Owen Farrell, Conor Murray; Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, Tadhg Furlong, Alun Wyn Jones, George Kruis, Peter O’Mahony (c), Sean O’Brien, Taulupe Faletau
Replacements: Ken Owens, Jack McGrath, Kyle Sinckler, Maro Itoje, Sam Warburton, Rhys Webb, Jonathan Sexton, Leigh Halfpenny.
New Zealand: Ben Smith, Israel Dagg, Ryan Crotty, Sonny Bill Williams, Rieko Ioane, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith; Joe Moody, Codie Taylor,Owen Franks, Brodie Retallick, Samuel Whitelock, Jerome Kaino, Sam Cane, Kieran Read (c).
Replacements: Nathan Harris, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Scott Barrett, Ardie Savea, TJ Perenara, Aaron Cruden/Lima Sopoaga, Anton Lienert-Brown.