ROTORUA, New Zealand (AFP) – Ireland’s Rory Best will become the fifth captain in six games for the British and Irish Lions on their New Zealand tour when he leads the side against the Waikato Chiefs in Hamilton tomorrow.
Tour captain Sam Warburton, who has only led the side once, was not included in the side named yesterday, indicating he will be in the match-day 23, but not guaranteed to start against the All Blacks in the first Test on Saturday.
Coach Warren Gatland said issues to be resolved before naming the first XV included choosing between Warburton and Sean O’Brien, and the make up of the back three, the midfield and the second-row.
In-form fly-half Owen Farrell, also not required to play the Chiefs, was confirmed yesterday as fit for the Test having recovered from a thigh strain.
Gatland said Farrell was only kept out of Saturday’s match against the Maori All Blacks as a “precautionary” measure.
“I was always confident about Owen being fit for the weekend,” Gatland said. “I was never unconfident about that.”
Fullback Leigh Halfpenny, who kicked six penalties in the 32-10 win over the Maori, was undergoing concussion tests but otherwise the Lions are largely injury free.
Liam Williams will play fullback against the Chiefs with the chance to fill the utility on the bench in the Test.
“A number of those players in the back three are pretty versatile. It’s an opportunity for Liam to go and impress there,” Gatland said.
“Anthony Watson did a good job coming on there against the Crusaders and has looked dangerous. We’re giving players a chance there from a counter-attack perspective.”
Gatland said the Lions would be looking to build on the momentum gained from their win over the Maori.
“We are five games into the Tour and there is still a lot to play for. Those involved tomorrow will be playing not only for themselves in terms of further selection but also for the whole squad,” he said.
“We are here to win a Test series and we have brought cover for the replacements bench so we can limit the number of players who need to double-up, which is tough to do at this level of rugby.”
Dan Biggar will start at fly-half against the Chiefs with Scotland’s Finn Russell, one of six reinforcements rushed in over the weekend, on the bench.
The other five new call-ups – Scotland’s Allan Dell along with Gareth Davies, Kristian Dacey, Cory Hill and Tomas Francis from Wales – were all named among the replacements and can expect to get game time.