The lowdown on the British & Irish Lions team to play the Highlanders in Dunedin
Sam Warburton will captain the British & Irish Lions against the Highlanders on Tuesday night. The tour skipper has recovered from an ankle strain to line up in a back row alongside England’s James Haskell and Ireland’s CJ Stander.
Jared Payne gets the chance to start at full-back, where he was so impressive against England in the Six Nations, while his centre partner against the Blues last week, Robbie Henshaw, joins up with Jonathan Joseph in midfield. That’s a combination of power and silky running.
Jack Nowell and Tommy Seymour are on the wings. Both are known for their work-rate and if the Lions employ the same kicking tactics as those that proved so successful against the Crusaders they will be clocking a lot of metres on the kick-chase.
Warren Gatland will hope the Welsh half-back pairing of Rhys Webb and Dan Biggar lasts longer than it did last week, when the fly-half had to depart before half-time because of a head injury. Biggar will be desperate to make his mark given how well Owen Farrell and Johnny Sexton performed against the Crusaders.
In the pack, the front row from the first game against NZ Provincial Barbarians all start again – Joe Marler, Rory Best and Kyle Sinckler – while Courtney Lawes and Iain Henderson form what looks to be a powerful pairing in the second row.
All Blacks Lima Sopoaga and Waisake Naholo have been released by Steve Hansen to play for the Highlanders against the Lions at Forsyth Barr Stadium on Tuesday night. Malakai Fekitoa also lines up in midfield and will no doubt be keen to make his mark having missed out on New Zealand selection for the Lions series.
However, the franchise are still without their biggest names – the Smiths, Ben and Aaron, for example, are missing and they play such a crucial role in their attacking game – who are involved with both the All Blacks and Maori All Blacks this week.
The Crusaders result was hugely important for the Lions and their defence was a standout, restricting a team that has averaged 37 points a game in Super Rugby this season to just three. However, they need to be clinical in attack – as we’ve been saying since the first game of the tour.
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They’re stretching sides out wide but have been unable to consistently get the final pass to hand or make the right decision in terms of getting over the line.
Nowell will be looking to improve on what was a disappointing display against the Blues and he has shown how dangerous he can be for the Chiefs, and if Joseph and Henshaw can find space in the middle of the park – perhaps running off Stander’s shoulder – they should test the Highlanders in defence too.
Webb will keep the back row interested at the breakdown as he likes a snipe close to the ruck, while the kicking games of Biggar and Payne should allow the Lions to dictate territory and apply pressure that way.
“Each game is a chance for individuals to shine but more importantly it’s about a collective performance,” said Gatland. “We are building some momentum and we have improved with every game.
“We were obviously pleased with the win against the Crusaders, especially our defence and game management, but we know the Highlanders will be another massive test for us as a squad.”
Highlanders v British & Irish Lions, Tuesday 13 June, 7.35pm (8.35am UK & Ireland), Forsyth Barr Stadium, Live on Sky Sports and TalkSport
Highlanders: Richard Buckman; Waisake Naholo, Malakai Fekitoa, Teihorangi Walden, Tevita Li; Lima Sopoaga, Kayne Hammington; Daniel Lienert-Brown, Liam Coltman, Siate Tokolahi, Alex Ainley, Jackson Hemopo, Gareth Evans, Dillon Hunt, Luke Whitelock (capt).
Replacements: Greg Pleasants-Tate, Aki Seiuli, Siosiua Halanukonuka, Josh Dickson, James Lentjes, Josh Renton, Marty Banks, Patrick Osborne.
Lions: Jared Payne; Jack Nowell, Jonathan Joseph, Robbie Henshaw, Tommy Seymour; Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb; Joe Marler, Rory Best, Kyle Sinckler, Courtney Lawes, Iain Henderson, James Haskell, Sam Warburton (capt), CJ Stander.
Replacements: Ken Owens, Jack McGrath, Dan Cole, Alun Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric, Greig Laidlaw, Owen Farrell, Elliot Daly.