Johnny Sexton and Owen Farrell to form 10-12 partnership for Lions in second Test against the All Blacks in Wellington
Warren Gatland has made three changes to the British & Irish Lions starting XV that lost 30-15 to New Zealand in the first Test – most significantly picking Johnny Sexton and Owen Farrell at fly-half and inside-centre respectively.
A Sexton-Farrell partnership at 10-12 has long been mooted for this Lions tour – by observers rather than the coaching team, who insisted they were viewing Farrell as a fly-half first and foremost – and now we’ll get to see it in action in Wellington.
The pair linked effectively in the Crusaders match, when Sexton had to come on as an early injury replacement for Jonathan Davies, and did the same in the final 20 minutes at Eden Park last Saturday.
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Now they will combine from kick-off as the Lions set out to win the second Test and keep the series alive going into the third back in Auckland. Gatland will be hoping that the pair can find holes in the All Blacks defence and release the back three of Liam Williams, Anthony Watson and Elliot Daly that looked so dangerous in the opening fixture.
Farrell also has the responsibility of keeping Sonny Bill Williams in check defensively, trying to stop the All Blacks centre from producing his trademark offloads.
“We have gone with the Sexton-Farrell combination,” said Gatland. “Both have played well and it gives us that attacking option in the 10-12 channel. We created opportunities in the first Test and there were a few that we didn’t finish.”
The other changes are up front, where Sam Warburton replaces Peter O’Mahony and Maro Itoje comes in for his Saracens team-mate George Kruis. The Lions will have been disappointed in how they performed in the physical exchanges in the first Test and they will be looking to Itoje to add power and dynamism both in the set-piece and the loose.
Warburton’s key role will be to try to slow down New Zealand ball at the breakdown or, even better, turn it over. Quick ball allowed the All Blacks to release one-out runners close to the ruck at Eden Park and punch holes in the Lions’ defence while also negating the threat of the tourists’ line speed. Brodie Retallick excelled in this area, continually making yardage when released by Aaron Smith.
Warburton has always said that jackling and the breakdown is his ‘specialism’ as a back-rower and he needs to prove that on Saturday if the Lions are to avoid going 2-0 down in the series.
On the bench, Courtney Lawes and CJ Stander come in as the second- and back-row replacements. The former has been impressive all tour while the Lions will want Stander to show his ball-carrying power in the final quarter.
Ben Te’o and Jack Nowell are the backs replacements, alongside scrum-half Rhys Webb, and all three have the ability to make an impact and spark attacks.
Gatland said: “We saw Maro’s impact in the first Test and he will bring an edge and a physicality, as will Sam Warburton in terms of pressure on the ball.
“It’s tough on Peter O’Mahony, who has done a brilliant job for us. We had to look at the bench and we felt that CJ Stander’s ball-carrying and defence was the right choice for the bench. You have to make the tough calls and pick what is the right team and the right combinations for a Test match.”
The All Blacks have made two injury-enforced changes to their team, Anton Lienert-Brown replacing Ryan Crotty and Waisake Naholo coming onto the wing with Israel Dagg moving to full-back as Ben Smith continues to recover from a head injury. See the full story here.
New Zealand v British & Irish Lions, 7.35pm (8.35am UK & Ireland), Westpac Stadium, Wellington, Live on Sky Sports and TalkSport
New Zealand: Irsael Dagg; Waisake Naholo, Anton Lienert-Brown, Sonny Bill Williams, Reiko 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.
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), Sean O’Brien, Taulupe Faletau.
Replacements: Ken Owens, Jack McGrath, Kyle Sinckler, Courtney Lawes, CJ Stander, Rhys Webb, Ben Te’o, Jack Nowell.