Sam Warburton returns to captain the British & Irish Lions, in their penultimate match of the 2017 tour. WarrenGatland’s men head into the second test with New Zealand, hoping to level up the series. The Lions lost the series opener last Saturday and now know defeat will put the series out of reach.
Lions coach, Gatland, makes three changes from the side that lost 30-15 last Saturday. Warburton, fly-half Jonathan Sexton and 22 year-old Maro Itoje come into the side – all of whom came off the bench on the series opener. Tadhg Furlong retains his starting berth at tighthead, once again beating out 24 year-old Kyle Sinckler – who the Lions will be hoping can make an impact in the last 20 minutes.
Jamie George holds on to the hooker jersey, despite disappointing last time out. The 26 year-old struggled in his first international start, last Saturday, and looked destined to be replaced by Welsh hooker Ken Owens.
Alun Wyn Jones is another who can count himself lucky, after being given the nod at lock once again. The 31 year-old looked off the pace in the first test – but his experience and resume were clearly enough for Gatland to keep trust in the Welsh captain.
Itoje will line up alongside Jones, as the Saracens forward replaces club teammate George Kruis – who drops out of the side altogether. Itoje was a surprise exclusion from the first test but will get the call from the start in Wellington. Courtney Lawes replaces Kruis in the 23, with Lawes being named as a replacement.
Warburton, who was another surprise omission from the first test XV, replaces Peter O’Mahony at blindside flanker. O’Mahony captained the side in the first test but failed to impress, as the Gatland gamble didn’t quite payoff. The Irish international drops out of the side altogether, with the 27 year-old not even named on the bench.
Conor Murray managed to stave off the calls for Rhys Webb to start, as Murray continues at scrumhalf. Webb, who scored in the dying embers of the first test, is a more dynamic threat than Murray – but will once again be an impact sub.
Ben Te’o is dropped, despite a solid performance in the first test, with Sexton coming in for the New –Zealand born centre. Owen Farrell shifts from fly-half to inside centre, to accommodate Sexton.
The back three remains intact but Leigh Halfpenny fails to make the 23, with the versatile Jack Nowell getting the nod instead. Nowell, who can cover wing or full-back, staked his claim after an impressive performance against the Chiefs, prior to the first test.
George North and Robbie Henshaw have both suffered tour-ending injuries and have been sent home. With neither featuring in the first test and Saturday being the penultimate match, Gatland has decided against calling up replacements.
The forwards remain unchanged for the All-Blacks, after a dominant performance by the pack last week. Kieran Read continues to skipper the side, as he wins his 99th cap.
Beauden Barrett will be hoping to stay at fly-half for longer than 30 minutes this week. Despite impressing from full-back last week, after he covered Ben Smith’s injury, the 26 year-old will return to fly-half on Saturday.
Ngani Laumape is poised to make his All Blacks debut from the bench on Saturday. The injury to Ryan Crotty, means that Anton Lienert-Brown gets the start at outside centre, after impressing when came on last week. 24 year-old Laumape produced an eye-catching performance for the Highlanders against the Lions, on Tuesday, and will be looking to pick up where he left off, if he takes the field.
Smith has been ruled out of the rest of the tour with a concussion, so Israel Dagg moves to full-back. Waisake Naholo comes into the side on the wing, to cover Dagg, whilst the dangerous Reiko Ioane continues on the other wing.
Lions: Liam Williams; Anthony Watson, Jonathan Davies, Owen Farrell, Elliot Daly; Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray; Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, Tadhg Furlong, Maro Itoje, Alun Wyn Jones, Sam Warburton (capt), Taulupe Faletau, Sean O’Brien.
Replacements: Ken Owens, Jack McGrath, Kyle Sinckler, Courtney Lawes, CJ Stander, Rhys Webb, Ben Te’o, Jack Nowell.
All Blacks: Israel Dagg; Waisake Naholo, Anton Lienert-Brown, Sonny Bill Williams, Rieko Ioane; Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith; Joe Moody, Codie Taylor, Owen Franks; Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock; Jerome Kaino, Sam Cane, Kieran Read (capt).
Replacements: Nathan Harris, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Scott Barrett, Ardie Savea, TJ Perenara, Aaron Cruden, Ngani Laumape.
The All Blacks play the British & Irish Lions in the second test in Wellington at 8:35am on Saturday 1 July.
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