WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) Sam Warburton will reclaim the captaincy of the British and Irish Lions from Peter O’Mahony in Saturday’s second rugby test against New Zealand.
O’Mahony led the Lions in last weekend’s first test in Auckland, won 30-15 by the All Blacks, while tour captain Warburton started on the bench as he continued his recovery from a knee injury.
Warburton will now return for the critical second test at Wellington in one of three changes to the Lions’ starting lineup announced Thursday.
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Ireland’s Jonathan Sexton will start at flyhalf while England’s Owen Farrell moves from that position to inside center, displacing Ben Te’o.
England lock Maro Itoje will start after making an impact from the bench in the first test. He displaces George Kruis who, along with O’Mahony, drops out of the match 23.
England lock Courtney Lawes, fullback Jack Nowell and backrower C.J. Stander have earned bench places after strong performances in the Lions’ final midweek match against the Hurricanes on Tuesday.
Head coach Warren Gatland said O’Mahony was unlucky.
”It’s tough on Peter O’Mahony, who has done a brilliant job for us,” he said. ”We had to look at the bench and we felt that C.J. Stander’s ball-carrying and defense 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.
”In terms of the backs we have gone with the Sexton-Farrell combination. 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 we didn’t finish.”
Meanwhile, rugby league convert Ngani Laumape is in line for a test debut from the bench in an All Blacks team containing two player changes and one positional switch.
Winger Waisake Naholo and center Anton Lienert-Brown were promoted earlier Thursday to the starting 15, while Israel Dagg will move from wing to fullback following injuries to fullback Ben Smith and center Ryan Crotty.
Smith sustained a concussion and Crotty a hamstring strain during last weekend’s first test at Auckland, which the All Blacks won 30-15.
Naholo will play on the right wing in his 13th test and Lienert-Brown will combine in midfield with former league star Sonny Bill Williams.
Laumape, who played for the Warriors in the National Rugby League, is named on the bench.
Both Naholo and Laumape had starring roles in matches between their Super Rugby teams and the Lions. Naholo scored two tries in the Highlanders’ win over the tourists and Laumape scored a try for the Hurricanes in Tuesday’s 31-31 draw.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen expressed confidence in the newcomers’ ability to cope with the pressure of the second test of the three-match series.
”Whilst it’s disappointing to lose both Ben Smith and Ryan Crotty, it creates an opportunity for others,” Hansen said. ”Izzy (Dagg) is a world-class back three player as is Anton in the midfield and both Waisake and Ngani are coming into the test side following outstanding performances against the Lions for their respective Super franchises.”
Hansen has named an unchanged forward pack after the All Blacks gained an advantage up front over the Lions in Auckland. But he expected an improved performance from the Lions in Wellington and said the All Blacks would also have to improve.
”We’re aware the British and Irish Lions have their backs to the wall and will chuck everything at us to keep themselves alive in the series,” he said. ”They are a quality side who we respect immensely. In reality, last week’s test could’ve gone either way had they taken more of their chances.”
New Zealand: Israel Dagg, Waisake Naholo, Anton Lienert-Brown, Sonny Bill Williams, Rieko Ioane, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith; Kieran Read (captain), Sam Cane, Jerome Kaino, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Codie Taylor, Joe Moody. Reserves: Nathan Harris, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Scott Barrett, Ardie Savea, TJ Perenara, Aaron Cruden, Ngani Laumape.
British and Irish Lions: Liam Williams, Anthony Watson, Jonathan Davies, Owen Farrell, Elliot Daly, Jonathan Sexton, Conor Murray; Taulupe Faletau, Sean O’Brien, Sam Warburton (captain), Alun Wyn Jones, Maro Itoje, Tadhg Furlong, Jamie George, Mako Vunipola. Reserves: Ken Owens, Jack McGrath, Kyle Sinckler, Courtney Lawes, C.J. Stander, Rhys Webb, Ben Te’o, Jack Nowell.