Warburton returns in do or die Test for the Lions


By , DECLAN MURPHY is a Roar Guru

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    Sam Warburton returns to captain the British and Irish Lions, in the second match of the series against New Zealand, this Saturday at 8.30 am.

    Warburton replaces Peter O’Mahony, who drops out of the Test squad entirely.

    Warburton is joined in the back row by Taulupe Faletau and Sean O’Brien, with CJ Stander taking a spot on the bench. Stander played well in the Lions mid-week draw against the Hurricanes, with Lions coach Warren Gatland believing that Stander offers more options as a ball-carrier than O’Mahony.

    It’s quite a come down for O’Mahony, who goes from captaining the team to dropping out of the 23 entirely. While O’Mahony didn’t have his usual dynamic performance in last week’s Test, Warburton hasn’t reached his usual heights either on tour.

    Mario Itoje joins Alun Wyn-Jones in the second row, with Courtney Lawes on the bench. George Kruis is dropped from the Test squad. Jones keeps his place though the pace of the game seemed beyond him at times in last week’s Test.

    Iain Henderson played very well in the Hurricanes game, but his yellow card in that match seems to have counted against him. Mako Vunipola, Jamie George and Tadhg Furlong retain their places from last week in the front row, with Ken Owens, Kyle Sinkler and Jack McGrath on the bench.

    George played well last week, while Vunipola and Furlong didn’t have their usual affect on the game.

    Jonny Sexton starts at out-half, joined by his Ireland colleague, Conor Murray at scrum-half. Owen Farrell moves to centre, with Ben Te’o dropping to the bench. The Sexton-Farrell combination is one that has been talked about since day one for the Lions. The two played together in last week’s Test but were unable to have much of an effect on the outcome of the game.

    Te’o is unlucky to lose his place as he did a great job of keeping Sonny Bill Wiliams under wraps in last week’s Test. Farrell has a very tough job of containing Williams, who can be one of the most destructive runners in the game.

    Jonathan Davies retains his place at centre, as do the back three of Elliot Daly, Anthony Watson and Jim Williams. Davies and Williams played very well against the All Blacks last Saturday, while Watson and Daly had good games but were caught out in defence on occasion, and failed to complete try-scoring opportunities.

    Jack Nowell is picked on the bench, ahead of Tommy Seymour, who scored two tries in the draw against the Hurricanes. Leigh Halfpenny would have been an option, if only for his goal-kicking. George North and Robbie Henshaw have been ruled out of the rest of the tour after getting injured in the Hurricanes clash. It’s unlucky for both players but neither had lived up to their pre-tour billing.

    It’s do or die for the British and Irish Lions. If they win this Test, they still have a chance to win the series. Lose and they’re simply playing for pride and to avoid the ignominy of being whitewashed. They will need to tighten up their defensive game, and be more clinical in their attack.

    Codie Taylor All Blacks New Zealand Rugby Union 2017

    (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

    It’s also crunch time for Warren Gatland. The coach has been receiving a lot of flak from all sides, with it increasing after the draw against the Hurricanes. The Lions were leading, 23-7 at half-time and 31-17, ten minutes before the end. Then, Henderson was yellow carded and the Hurricanes scored two converted tries in his absence and the game finished 31-all.

    Gatland refused to use any of the substitutes he had called out, claiming that to do so would ‘devalue the jersey even further’, which meant that the Lions players had to remain on the pitch for the full 80 minutes of the game.

    In the modern game it is important to be able to call on all 23 players. Not using those players was disrespectful to them and shows a lack of faith in his own judgement. If he wasn’t going to use them he shouldn’t have called them out in the first place.

    Gatland has said a lot about the importance of the Test series, and every decision he’s made has been based on that. Now, he has to deliver.

    The All Blacks have said that they expect a backlash from the Lions but will be prepared. They have made three changes to the team that beat the Lions, 30-15, last week. Two changes are injury related, while one is positional.

    Ben Smith, was injured in that Test, so Israel Dagg moves from wing, where he played last week, to fullback. Waisake Naholo comes on to the wing. Naholo helped the Highlanders to a 23-22 win over the Lions. He will want to repeat his great form for that game.

    Codie Taylor, who played in the Hurricanes draw against the Lions on Tuesday, replaces the injured Ryan Crotty at centre.

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