WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) Ireland hooker Rory Best will captain a British and Irish Lions team which features six uncapped players on the bench on Tuesday against the Hamilton-based Chiefs.
Head coach Warren Gatland summoned four players from Wales and two from Scotland into his touring squad on Saturday and all six have been named as replacements for the Lions’ sixth tour match – and last warmup before the first test against New Zealand at Eden Park on Saturday.
Kristian Dacey, Tomas Francis, Cory Hill and Gareth Davies were called up by Gatland from the Wales squad which beat Tonga on Friday and Allan Dell and Finn Russell from the Scotland team that beat Australian on Saturday. They boost an already substantial Lions squad to 46 players with five matches remaining after Saturday’s 32-10 win over the New Zealand Maori.
The lineup Gatland named to face the Maori was close to his test lineup and only three of those players – lock Iain Henderson, winger Elliot Daly and scrumhalf Greig Laidlaw who also started from the bench on Saturday – have been named to back up against the Chiefs.
Wales lock Alun Wyn Jones and Scotland winger Tommy Seymour are among the reserves which may indicate they retain some chance of making the test lineup as replacements.
Laidlaw will combine with Wales flyhalf Dan Biggar on Tuesday while the Ireland pair of Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne will start in midfield, beside Daly and England winger Jack Nowell.
Best will line up in the front row between England props Joe Marler and Dan Coles while Henderson teams with England’s Courtney Lawes in a strong second row. Laws has fully recovered from a head knock he suffered last week against the Dunedin-based Highlanders.
”We are five games into the tour and there is still a lot to play for,” Gatland said. ”Those involved on Tuesday will be playing not only for themselves in terms of further selection but also for the whole squad.
”We are here to win a test series and we have brought cover for the replacements bench so we can limit the number of players who need to double up, which is tough to do at this level of rugby.”
Gatland has been strongly criticized in Britain for summoning so many replacements to a squad which already numbered 40 fit players and which would seem to have the resources necessary to cope with the five remaining matches in New Zealand.
New Zealand-born Gatland tried to deflect attention from his selections by suggesting All Blacks coach Steve Hansen might be worried at the Lions’ recent form.
”I’m a little bit surprised by Steve Hansen, who is normally pretty calm,” Gatland said. ”He has been doing a lot of press conferences and I can only take that as a sign of respect in that he is a little bit worried.
”They arranged a pretty quick game against Samoa and if you saw the first 20-30 minutes, they needed that.”
New Zealand’s 2011 Rugby World Cup hero Stephen Donald will captain an inexperienced Chiefs lineup against the Lions.
The 33-year-old Donald, a veteran of 100 matches for the Waikato-based Chiefs, is by far the most-seasoned member of a lineup depleted by the loss of players to the All Blacks and the New Zealand Maori squads.
Donald became a New Zealand rugby folk hero in 2011 when, as the All Blacks’ fourth-choice flyhalf, he took the field as a replacement in the World Cup final and kicked the winning penalty in the 8-7 win over France.
Center Tim Nanai-Williams, who played for Samoa against the All Blacks in Auckland on Friday, is the next most-experienced member of the Chiefs lineup with 82 appearances.
Lock Dominic Bird and prop Nepo Laulala are the only All Blacks among the Chiefs starting lineup while hooker Hika Elliot and backrower Liam Messam, who both played for the Maori in a 32-10 loss to the Lions on Saturday, are included on the bench.
The Chiefs’ selection casts the spotlight on a number of their rising stars including wingers Toni Pulu and Solomon Alaimalo, center Johnny Faauli and backrower Lachlan Boshier.
British and Irish Lions: Liam Williams, Jack Nowell, Jared Payne, Robbie Henshaw, Elliot Daly, Dan Biggar, Greig Laidlaw; C.J. Stander, Just Tipuric, James Haskell, Courtney Lawes, Iain Henderson, Dan Cole, Rory Best (captain), Joe Marler. Replacements: Kristian Dacey, Allan Dell, Tomas Francis, Cory Hill, Alun Wyn Jones, Gareth Davies, Finn Russell, Tommy Seymour.
Chiefs: Shaun Stevenson, Toni Pulu, Tim Nanai-Williams, Johnny Faauli, Solomon Alaimalo, Stephen Donald (captain), Finlay Christie; Tom Sanders, Lachlan Boshier, Mitchell Brown, Michael Allardice, Dominic Bird, Nepo Laulala, Liam Polwort, Siegried Fisi’ihoi. Replacements: Hika Elliot, Aidan Ross, Atu Moli, Liam Messam, Mitchell Karpik, Jonathan Taumateine, Luteru Laulala, Chase Tiatia.