There was a lot of hype surrounding the team announcement for the Lions’ upcoming clash with the Maori All Blacks in Rotorua. With this game exactly one week out from the first Test against the All Blacks in Auckland, many predicted that the side Warren Gatland picked would be very close to that of the Test side to face Steve Hansen’s men.
One of the most surprising aspects to the side to face the Maori All Blacks is the naming of Peter O’Mahony as captain. Here, we discuss the significance of this in addition to the some of the other major talking points from Gatland’s selection.
— British & Irish Lions (@lionsofficial) June 15, 2017
1. Peter O’Mahony As Captain
Gatland has selected O’Mahony at six for the clash in Rotorua and after impressing so much against the Crusaders last Saturday, it’s not hard to see why. That performance seemed to push O’Mahony to the head of the queue in terms of starting at six for the Test matches. Another impressive performance here and he will be nailed on for Eden Park on June 24.
What is most interesting, is the fact that he is named as captain. O’Mahony is a born leader, that much is evident from his performances for Munster and Ireland. Gatland and his coaching staff must have been heavily impressed with the Cork man in training and around camp over the last few weeks.
Ultimately, what does this mean for Sam Warburton? The Tour captain is named on the bench for the upcoming clash and although he may well still feature against the All Blacks next weekend, a non-dominant performance from the bench this Saturday and a good display from Sean O’Brien may well consign his fate to a bench role for the Test series.
2. The Owen Farrell / Jonathan Sexton Conundrum
Owen Farrell has been in the in-form 10 in the squad so far on this Tour, especially when you take into consideration Sexton’s labouring start to proceedings in Whangarei two weeks ago. However, Sexton has gradually grown into this tour and his partnership with Farrell against the Crusaders has probably encouraged Gatland to have another think about a potential on-field partnership between the two.
Has Sexton pipped Farrell for the 10 shirt? Probably not. But Gatland did say during the team announcement that Sexton has “his mojo back” and that wanted to give him a start against the Maoris. We think that Gatland wants to have another look at Farrell and Sexton together at some stage in the second half on Saturday.
This achieves many things. Gatland will be able to see whether this partnership is something worth pursuing while it also keeps supporters, media and most importantly, Steve Hansen, guessing with regards to who will line out on in Eden Park on Saturday.
UPDATE: Farrell Injury
Now that Farrell has been ruled out of this weekend’s match with a grade 1 quadriceps strain, we won’t get to see him and Sexton play together until the first Test (we would imagine Dan Biggar will start against the Chiefs on Tuesday).
This is now a huge opportunity for Sexton to cement his place as the starting 10 for the Lions for the Test series. There will be a lot of pressure on him due to Farrell’s unavailability but knowing Sexton’s personality and the improvements he has shown thus far on tour, he should be well able to step up to the plate and put in a commanding and controlled performance.
3. Is this Gatland’s Preferred Back Three?
Having no stand out candidate in the back-three positions is one of the concerns for the Lions coaching staff as the first Test approaches. No one has put their stamp on proceedings or really shown that they deserve a Test start.
George North was decent against the Crusaders without setting the world on fire. Leigh Halfpenny was solid and kicked very well from the tee against the Blues while Anthony Watson was scintillating from an attacking perspective, albeit from fullback rather than the wing when he was introduced early on in Christchurch.
One would expect that if they all have decent games in Rotorua, they will be lining out one week later in Auckland.
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