Munster and Ireland flanker Peter O’Mahony will captain the British & Irish Lions against the Maori All Blacks at Rotorua International Stadium on Saturday (kick-off 7.35pm local time/8.35am Irish time).
Irish Rugby is set for a bumper Saturday as just after the conclusion of Ireland’s first Test against Japan in Shizuoka, Peter O’Mahony and four of his Irish colleagues will start for the Lions in Rotorua.
In a game which has been billed as the tour’s unofficial ‘fourth Test’, O’Mahony will follow Sam Warburton, Ken Owens and Alun Wyn Jones in leading the 2017 Lions. Jonathan Sexton, Conor Murray, Tadhg Furlong and Sean O’Brien also start, with Jack McGrath and Iain Henderson selected for bench duty.
Lions head coach Warren Gatland said: “At this stage of the tour it is important to build on the foundations that have been laid in the last few weeks. We were obviously disappointed with the loss against the Highlanders and realise that we need to improve in several areas, including our discipline, but we feel that overall we are building well towards the Test matches.
“Every game is a big challenge, which is what we wanted, and this is an experienced Lions team with eight of the starting side involved in the last Test in Australia in 2013.”
Gatland added: “Peter is a proven captain with Munster. He never takes a backward step and we believe that those leadership qualities will serve us well on Saturday against a quality and determined Maori All Blacks team.”
Munster skipper O’Mahony spoke about ‘making the games count’ and ‘doing the jersey justice’ as the opening Test of the series against New Zealand – at Auckland’s Eden Park on Saturday week – moves into view.
“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,” said O’Mahony.
“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! It’s a huge honour for me.
“We are just getting to know each other, we have got to make the games count and 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.
“We want to win (against the Maori) but first and foremost we need a performance. Whatever comes after that is what comes. We need to be stepping up and guys to stick your hands up.”
Meanwhile, Owen Farrell has suffered a grade one quadriceps strain in training and has been ruled out of the match against the Maori All Blacks. The Saracens and England play-maker will be replaced on the bench by Wales out-half Dan Biggar.
BRITISH & IRISH LIONS Team & Replacements (v Maori All Blacks, 2017 British & Irish Lions Tour, Rotorua International Stadium, Rotorua, New Zealand, Saturday, June 17, kick-off 7.35pm local time/8.35am Irish time):
15. Leigh Halfpenny (Toulon/Wales) #775
14. Anthony Watson (Bath/England) #816
13. Jonathan Davies (Scarlets/Wales) #778
12. Ben Te’o (Worcester Warriors/England) #815
11. George North (Northampton Saints/England) #792
10. Jonathan Sexton (Leinster/Ireland) #791
9. Conor Murray (Munster/Ireland) #790
1. Mako Vunipola (Saracens/England) #787
2. Jamie George (Saracens/England) #818
3. Tadhg Furlong (Leinster/Ireland) #817
4. Maro Itoje (Saracens/England) #825
5. George Kruis (Saracens/England) #819
6. Peter O’Mahony (Munster/Ireland) (capt) #833
7. Sean O’Brien (Leinster/Ireland) #796
8. Taulupe Faletau (Bath/Wales) #779
16. Ken Owens (Scarlets/Wales) #829
17. Jack McGrath (Leinster/Ireland) #827
18. Kyle Sinckler (Harlequins/England) #814
19. Iain Henderson (Ulster/Ireland) #808
20. Sam Warburton (Cardiff Blues/Wales) #800
21. Greig Laidlaw (Gloucester/Scotland) #810
22. Dan Biggar (Ospreys/Wales) #821
23. Elliot Daly (Wasps/England) #822