O'Mahony to captain Lions against Maori All Blacks

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Peter O'Mahony will captain the British and Irish Lions when they face the Maori All Blacks in Rotorua, after head coach Warren Gatland named his starting XV. 

The Lions announced their team for Saturday's clash at Rotorua International Stadium - Gatland including 11 of the side that beat Crusaders last week.

Jonathan Sexton comes in as Owen Farrell drops to the bench, while Anthony Watson starts on the wing alongside George North and Leigh Halfpenny as the Lions look to bounce back from Tuesday's thrilling 23-22 defeat to Highlanders.

It will be the first time Irishman and Munster back-rower O'Mahony captains the Lions, following in the footsteps of Sam Warburton, Ken Owens and Alun Wyn Jones - who has been rested for the game - on the tour of New Zealand.

"To be picked for the Lions at all is a massive honour, and then to get the nod from Warren to be captain is hugely special, not just for me but for all the clubs and players and family that have put their effort into me," O'Mahony said on Thursday.

"He [Gatland] just gave me a nod at breakfast and fired it at me and obviously I said I was delighted to [captain] and that was the end of it really!

"We are just getting to know each other, we have got to make the games count ad I think they are starting to come now. We have to do the jersey justice, not just for yourself, but for everything that the Lions stands for."

The Lions have lost to Blues and Highlanders, though they did overcome unbeaten Super Rugby leaders Crusaders 12-3 on June 10.

Gatland said the Christchurch victory was impossible to ignore as the Lions step up their preparations to face world champions the All Blacks, starting June 24.

"A lot of players performed very well individually, and it was a very strong collective performance as well," he said. "We felt that we wanted to make a few changes but reward a significant part of that team that played last Saturday night.

"We are all aware that you get one or two chances, some people are lucky and for whatever reason you may be involved in a combination that goes really well. Sometimes as coaches you have to reward that, we have gone for a lot of the same combinations.

"It is building on last week's game and it is a massive challenge, the players that have played in that squad have done pretty well against the Crusaders, the best Super Rugby side in New Zealand.

"You know that another significant performance against the Maori gives you an opportunity to potentially be a part of that first Test match."

Three All Blacks will face the Lions on Saturday, with Tawera Kerr-Barlow and the Ioane brothers Rieko and Akira named in the Maori starting side.

 

British and Irish Lions: Leigh Halfpenny, Anthony Watson, Jonathan Davies, Ben Te'o, George North, Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray, Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, Tadhg Furlong, Maro Itoje, George Kruis, Peter O'Mahony, Sean O'Brien, Taulupe Faletau.

Replacements: Ken Owens, Jack McGrath, Kyle Sinckler, Iain Henderson, Sam Warburton, Greig Laidlaw, Owen Farrell, Elliot Daly.

 

Maori All Blacks: James Lowe, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Matt Proctor, Charlie Ngatai, Rieko Ioane, Damian McKenzie, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Kane Hames, Ash Dixon, Ben May, Joe Wheeler, Tom Franklin, Akira Ioane, Elliot Dixon, Liam Messam.

Replacements: Hikawera Elliot, Chris Eves, Marcel Renata, Leighton Price, Kara Pryor, Bryn Hall, Ihaia West, Rob Thompson.