A look at the British & Irish line-up to take on the Maori All Blacks in Rotorua
Peter O’Mahony will captain the British & Irish Lions against the Maori All Blacks on Saturday in Rotorua.
The headline selection is that Johnny Sexton starts ahead of Owen Farrell at fly-half, with many expecting the Englishman to wear the No 10 shirt just a week ahead of the first Test. With Conor Murray so effective from scrum-half last weekend, the Lions should benefit from having the familiarity of the Irish duo at half-back – but if Farrell starts against New Zealand he won’t have had much game time with Murray, the man most likely to wear the No 9 shirt in the Tests.
Warren Gatland said that Sexton “needs some more rugby” and also hinted that he might bring Farrell off the bench at centre to try out the 10-12 combination that proved fruitful in the second half against the Crusaders last week.
Ben Te’o and Jonathan Davies again link up in midfield and Gatland will be hoping the pairing lasts longer than the half an hour they managed against the Crusaders before Davies had to depart with a head injury. It promises to be a dangerous centre partnership but didn’t have time to fire last weekend.
Looking at the back three that started against the Crusaders, Anthony Watson comes in for Liam Williams on the wing while George North and Leigh Halfpenny keep their places.
When asked about Halfpenny, Gatland said: “It’s an opportunity to show what experience he’s got. We know how strong he is defensively and how hard he works off the ball, and obviously his goalkicking, but an attacking threat is also what we’re looking for from 15.”
The pack is the same as the one that started last Saturday’s match in Chistchurch, with the exception of Maro Itoje coming in to the second row in place of Alun Wyn Jones. The lineout should function well with the Saracens triumvirate of Itoje, George Kruis and hooker Jamie George so experienced of playing together.
Expect plenty of mobility from the front row, Mako Vunipola and Tadhg Furlong either side of George, while the back row of O’Mahony, Sean O’Brien and Taulupe Faletau will be aiming to hit the same standards as last weekend.
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O’Mahony, in particular, was a real standout against the Crusaders for his work-rate and defence. When talking about the importance of the Maori match, O’Mahony said: “It’s not just for ourselves but everything the Lions stands for. It’s not just the guys playing at the weekend, we’re playing for the 41. It’s not about just doing well for ourselves, it’s about the collective.”
The Maori have named Chiefs’ Damian McKenzie and Tawera Kerr-Barlow at half-back. McKenzie is more often seen at full-back for the Chiefs, so it will be interesting to see how he plays at ten – expect them to run a lot of ball, particularly with a dangerous back three of James Lowe, Nehe Milner-Skudder and Rieko Ioane, and use chip kicks to try to get behind the Lions’ rush defence.
The Lions defence will no doubt be tested by this Maori line-up, but they may look to get an advantage up front with the pack not having the same quality as the backs.
Maori All Blacks v Lions, Saturday 17 June, 7.35pm (8.35am UK & Ireland), Rotorua International Stadium, Live on Sky Sports & TalkSport
Maori All Blacks: James Lowe; Nehe Milner-Skudder, Matt Proctor, Charlie Ngatai, Rieko Ioane; Damian McKenzie, Tawera Kerr-Barlow; Kane Hames, Ash Dixon (capt), Ben May, Joe Wheeler, Tom Franklin, Akira Ioane, Elliot Dixon, Liam Messam.
Replacements: Ken Owens, Jack McGrath, Kyle Sinckler, Iain Henderson, Sam Warburton, Greig Laidlaw, Owen Farrell, Elliot Daly.