O’Mahony to lead Lions in ‘fourth Test’ against the Maoris


By , DECLAN MURPHY is a Roar Guru


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    Munster captain, Peter O’Mahony, has been chosen to lead the British and Irish Lions in their match against the Maori All Blacks (previously known as the New Zealand Maoris), which takes place this Saturday at 8.30 am (Irish time).

    The match has been labelled as the unofficial ‘fourth Test’, reflecting the strength of the Maoris side. The Lions have taken this description seriously and have picked their strongest squad yet for the game.

    Leigh Halfpenny returns to take the full-back spot. Conor Murray and Jonny Sexton are at half-backs. Ben Te’o and Jonathan Davies are the centres, with George North and Anthony Watson on the wings.

    Jamie George is at hooker, with Mako Vunipola and Tadgh Furlong on either side of him at prop. The second rows are Maro Itoje and George Kruis. O’Mahony is joined in the back row by Sean O’Brien and Toby Faletau.

    Halfpenny is the only member of the team that didn’t feature in the win against the Crusaders last Saturday. Stuart Hogg has been ruled out of the tour through injury so Halfpenny is now the frontrunner for the Test series fullback spot.

    Owen Farrell was in the original squad for the Maoris game but has had to withdraw through injury. His place on the bench is taken by Dan Biggar. Tour captain Sam Warburton is also on the bench.

    The other replacements are Ken Owens, Jack McGrath, Kyle Sinklair, Iain Henderson, Greig Laidlaw and Elliot Daly.

    The Lions will want to get the tour back on track after the midweek side’s loss to the Highlanders, 23-22. The Lions’s attack was the best it has been so far this tour, scoring three tries, which is more than the previous three games put together. But they succumbed to a late Highlanders penalty.

    A clear split has appeared in the quality of the Lions teams, between the Saturday/Test side and the midweek/dirt-trackers. The ‘Test’ sides have won their big match, against the Crusaders, while the mid-week side lost both to the Blues and the Highlanders.

    British and Irish Lions Rugby Union 2017

    (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

    If the Lions manage to beat the Maoris then they will make everybody sit up for the Test series. The Lions haven’t impressed many in New Zealand so far, relying mainly on a defensive game and penalty kicks.

    The Lions defence will have to be at its best in this game as the Maoris have one of the most destructive back-lines in the world.

    The Maoris are a team with a strong history against International sides. They have recorded wins against Ireland, England, Scotland, France, Argentina and Australia. They’ve also drawn a match against South Africa.

    The Maoris remain undefeated against full Test sides since a 2003 to England. The Maoris actually played the Lions before the full New Zealand side did. The 1888 Lions played the Maoris on their pioneering tour. The Lions didn’t play New Zealand until 1903.

    The Maoris record against the British and Irish Lions isn’t so good, however. The Maoris have played the Lions eight times over the years and have only won one game, the most recent game, on the 2005 tour.

    The Maoris have also picked a strong side for the Lions match, though they have been denied a ‘warm-up game’, which is essential for a scratch side like the Maoris, before a big game like this.

    The Maoris have an explosive back-line, including Rieko Ioane, who scored the winning try for the Blues in their victory over the Lions. The Lions will shade the game by five points or so, but it will be tough.