British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland has given the clearest indication yet as to his preferred lineup for the first test against the All Blacks after naming his team for Tuesday’s clash against the Waikato Chiefs in Hamilton.
None of the starting side who romped to a 32-10 win over the Maori All Blacks on Saturday were picked for the Chiefs game, with Ireland hooker Rory Best named to lead the all-change team.
Gatland has already called in six additional players, four from Wales and two from Scotland, to bolster his squad, effectively allowing him to run two sides for the remainder of the tour, with the first test against the world champions on June 24.
“We are five games into the tour and there is still a lot to play for,” Gatland said in a statement on Sunday. “Those involved on Tuesday will be playing not only for themselves in terms of further selection but also for the whole squad.
“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.”
All six of the additional players were named on the bench for the Chiefs game, though flyhalf Finn Russell, who was in brilliant form for Scotland in their 24-19 victory over Australia in Sydney on Saturday, could be considered unlucky not to have come straight into the starting side.
Wales flyhalf Dan Biggar has been given the starting role instead, indicating that Owen Farrell, who had a quadriceps injury and was in doubt for the first test, was now making good progress in his recovery.
England lock Courtney Lawes was also included in the starting side, possibly to give him a late chance to push for inclusion in the test squad after he failed a head injury assessment last Tuesday against the Otago Highlanders.
A strong contender for the test squad, Lawes was injured when making a tackle on Highlanders winger Waisake Naholo.
Lions: 15-Liam Williams, 14-Jack Nowell, 13-Jared Payne, 12-Robbie Henshaw, 11-Elliot Daly, 10-Dan Biggar, 9-Greig Laidlaw, 8-CJ Stander, 7-Justin Tipuric, 6-James Haskell, 5-Courtney Lawes, 4-Iain Henderson, 3-Dan Cole, 2-Rory Best (captain), 1-Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16-Kristian Dacey, 17-Alan Dell, 18-Tomas Francis, 19-Cory Hill, 20-Alun Wyn Jones, 21-Gareth Davies, 22-Finn Russell, 23-Tommy Seymour. (Reuters)