Warren Gatland names a new starting XV for Blues clash
Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne to start in Lions midfield at Eden Park on Wednesday
Robbie Henshaw starts for the Lions against the Blues on Wednesday. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Jared Payne has recovered from a calf strain and will start for the Lions against the Blues. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
In naming, as promised, an entirely new starting XV for the Lions’ second tour match against the Auckland Blues at Eden Park on Wednesday (kick-off 7.35pm local time/8.35am Irish time), Warren Gatland has handed first Lions caps to 11 players.
Amongst them are four Irish players, the midfield of Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne, as well as Jack McGrath and CJ Stander, with another Lions newcomer Peter O’Mahony set to join them from the bench, as well as Rory Best and Johnny Sexton.
Another of them, Ken Owens, will captain the side.
“We have made 15 changes to the starting XV and we are excited to see what this team is able to do against the Blues,” said Gatland. “We have stated from the off that we want to give every player a start in the first three games and Wednesday is an opportunity for this set of players to show what they can do in a Lions jersey.”
“It was good to get the win under our belts last weekend. The boys in the stand were itching to get their chance and they are really excited about Wednesday. In terms of Ken, he has worked really hard on his recovery and it’s great to have him available. He has captained the Scarlets and has assumed a leadership role within the camp and it is a great opportunity for him.
“We are expecting a big crowd at Eden Park. It will be the first of three matches there for us and we know the atmosphere will be outstanding. We are hoping for some good weather and are expecting a tough, fast and open game of rugby.
“We have a few work ons from last weekend and we know we need to be more clinical. We created some good opportunities against the Barbarians but didn’t see them through and that is something we want to improve on.”
Gatland said Saturday’s opener had, “re-enforced how tough this tour is going to be.”
“ We’ve just got to make sure we match fire with fire. The fact that we’ll be here a week on Wednesday, hopefully it will prepare us much better for what’s ahead. There was a lot of intensity in training today.”
Describing last Saturday’s win over the Provincial Barbarians as “an ugly win”, Gatland added: “There’s only one way to go and that’s to improve on the performance.”
Barring injuries, the composition of the side to face the unbeaten, table-topping Cruasders in Christchurch, to be confirmed on Thursday, can also now be speculated upon in advance.
Gatland confirmed that the 11 players yet to start either of the first two games should therefore all come into Saturday’s team, namely Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, Tadhg Furlong, George Kruis, O’Mahony, Sean O’Brien, Conor Murray, Owen Farrell, Jonathan Davies, Liam Williams and George North.
Owens looked suitably honoured and even a little humbled in front of the media glare. “When Gats asked me last night it was a bit of a shock and a huge honour. It’s a first opportunity for most us and we’re looking forward to it.”
British and Irish Lions: Leigh Halfpenny, Jack Nowell, Jared Payne, Robbie Henshaw, Elliot Daly, Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb; Jack McGrath, Ken Owens, Dan Cole, Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes, James Haskell, Justin Tipuric, CJ Stander. Replacements: Rory Best, Joe Marler, Kyle Sinckler, Iain Henderson, Peter O’Mahony, Greg Laidlaw, Johnny Sexton, Liam Williams.