We run the rule over the squad picked for the Chiefs game on the 2017 British & Irish Lions tour
All six of the players called up to the British & Irish Lions squad over the weekend are included on the bench in the team to play the Chiefs on Tuesday. Kristian Dacey, Allan Dell and Tomas Francis will provide front-row cover, with Cory Hill, Gareth Davies and Finn Russell also amongst the replacements.
Rory Best will captain the Lions in this midweek fixture and is joined in the front row by England props Joe Marler and Dan Cole, which suggests Kyle Sinckler has earned a bench spot behind expected starting tighthead Tadhg Furlong for the first Test against the All Blacks.
Iain Henderson, who was so impressive against the Highlanders and made an impact as a replacement in the win over the Maori, teams up with Courtney Lawes in the second row.
The lock pairing and the appearance of Alun Wyn Jones on the bench points to the Saracens combination of George Kruis and Maro Itoje – both hugely impressive in Saturday’s victory – starting the first Test.
James Haskell, Justin Tipuric and CJ Stander form the back row. Those left out are Peter O’Mahony, Sean O’Brien and Taulupe Faletau, who have worked so well together in the two Saturday wins over the Crusaders and Maori, as well as tour captain Sam Warburton.
The coaches and Warburton himself have been raising the possibility of him not starting the first Test for a long time so either he will be on the bench – or it’s all a ruse and he starts ahead of O’Mahony at six or O’Brien at seven.
Liam Williams makes his first start of the tour at full-back and will surely be relishing the chance to show what he can do from 15 having not been at his best in his two games on the wing to date.
English pair Jack Nowell and Elliot Daly are on the wings – will one of them make the bench on Saturday? – while in midfield it’s the Irish pairing of Jared Payne and Robbie Henshaw.
The half-backs are Dan Biggar and Greig Laidlaw, who closed out the win over the Maori at nine and ten. We know Conor Murray and Rhys Webb will be the two scrum-halves involved in the first Test, and who starts at fly-half is likely to come down to whether Owen Farrell is fit.
Stephen Donald, the former Bath fly-half who kicked the winning penalty in the 2011 World Cup final, will captain the Chiefs against the Lions.
Two of the Maori team that lost to the Lions in Rotorua on Saturday – Liam Messam and Hika Elliot – are included on the bench while Tim Nanai-Williams, who caused his cousin Sonny Bill Williams a few issues on Friday night during Samoa’s defeat by the All Blacks, starts at outside-centre.
Last year the Chiefs humbled Wales 40-7 in a midweek fixture so Gatland will be well aware of the challenge that awaits against his former team.
“We are five games into the tour and there is still a lot to play for,” said Gatland. “Those involved on Tuesday will be playing not only for themselves in terms of further selection but also for the whole squad.
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“We are here to win a Test series and we have brought cover for the replacements bench so we can limit the number of players who need to double up, which is tough to do at this level of rugby.
“We know it is going to be another big challenge against the Chiefs who have won the Super Rugby title twice in the last five years.”
Chiefs v British & Irish Lions, Tuesday 20 June, 7.35pm (8.35am UK & Ireland), FMG Stadium Waikato, live on Sky Sports and TalkSport
Chiefs: Shaun Stevenson; Toni Pulu, Tim Nanai-Williams, Johnny Fa’auli, Solomon Alaimalo; Stephen Donald (capt), Finlay Christie; Tom Sanders, Lachlan Boshier, Mitch Brown, Michael Allardice, Dominic Bird, Nepo Laulala, Liam Polwart, Siegfried Fisiihoi.
Replacements: Hika Elliot, Aidan Ross, Atu Moli, Liam Messam, Mitch Karpik, Jonathan Taumateine, Luteru Laulala, Chase Tiatia.
Lions: Liam Williams; Jack Nowell, Jared Payne, Robbie Henshaw, Elliot Daly; Dan Biggar, Greig Laidlaw; Joe Marler, Rory Best (capt), Dan Cole, Iain Henderson, Courtney Lawes, James Haskell, Justin Tipuric, CJ Stander.
Replacements: Kristian Dacey, Allan Dell, Tomas Francis, Cory Hill, Alun Wyn Jones, Gareth Davies, Finn Russell, Tommy Seymour.