Gatland: Lions team picked to beat All Blacks
British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland says the form of players prompted his decision to make several surprise selections for the opening Test against New Zealand.
The tourists will be captained by Peter O'Mahony rather than Sam Warburton when they tackle the All Blacks on Saturday at Eden Park, where Owen Farrell will be entrusted with playmaking duties at fly-half ahead of Jonathan Sexton, despite the Ireland star impressing against the Maori All Blacks last weekend.
Strong performances from Elliot Daly and Liam Williams on Tuesday, despite being up against a weakened Chiefs team, have seen them keep 2013 tour stalwarts George North and Leigh Halfpenny out of the side for the showdown with the world champions in Auckland.
And Gatland has favoured Alun Wyn Jones, a trusted Wales lieutenant, ahead of young England powerhouse Maro Itoje at lock.
"We have picked a side based on form with a lot of players putting their hands up, especially from the Crusaders and Maori All Blacks games, and it was a lively selection meeting," the coach said in a statement on the Lions website.
"The win against the Chiefs was also extremely important for the squad and some players played themselves into the side.
"We have continuously been strong at set piece and have been good defensively in the last two or three outings.
"But to beat the All Blacks you have to be courageous and play some rugby - you have to score tries and I think we have picked a team capable of doing that."
Gatland has picked the same pack that helped to grind out a dogged 12-3 victory over Crusaders, flankers O'Mahony and Sean O'Brien joined by number eight Taulupe Faletau in a fearsome trio the coach clearly has confidence in.
"It's a reward for how the back row has gone," he said.
"There is a nice balance there while Peter captained the side against the Maori All Blacks and has done a good job."
The inclusion of Daly and Williams ahead of North and Halfpenny is arguably the biggest surprise, Gatland claiming the decision was a reward for their mid-week showing against Super Rugby opposition, who were missing several regulars.
"Elliot has been very accurate in the way he has played and we saw some excellent attacking play from Liam on Tuesday night," he said.
"We are excited about the 15 that take the field but also the very strong and experienced bench players who will have an impact."