All Blacks and Lions spring first Test surprises

by AFP

The All Blacks and Lions have both sprung surprises in their first Test teams, as they prepare for Saturday's Eden Park opener.

Lions coach Warren Gatland has kept Peter O'Mahony in the captain's chair, leaving Wales's Sam Warburton on the bench.

O'Mahony skippered the Lions to victory over the Maori All Blacks last week, while Warburton has struggled for form ahead of the Test at Eden Park.

Gatland made only four changes to the starting XV that defeated the Maori 32-10, including England star Owen Farrell at fly-half over Ireland's Johnny Sexton.

Alun Wyn Jones comes in at lock, allowing Gatland to use Maro Itoje as an impact player off the bench.

Gatland also reshuffled his backline in the wake of the Lions eye-catching 34-6 win over Waikato Chiefs, including Liam Williams at fullback and Elliot Daly on the wing.

They edge out Leigh Halfpenny and George North respectively, with North not even included in the match-day squad after failing to impress in the warm-up fixtures.

"We have picked a side based on form with a lot of players putting their hands up, especially from the Crusaders and Maori All Blacks games, and it was a lively selection meeting," Gatland said.

"The win against the Chiefs was also extremely important for the squad and some players played themselves into the side."

 The New Zealand-born Wales coach said the Lions needed to play "courageous" rugby to defeat the back-to-back world champions in their own backyard.

"We have continuously been strong at set piece and have been good defensively in the last two or three outings," he said.

"But to beat the All Blacks you have to be courageous and play some rugby-- you have to score tries and I think we have picked a team capable of doing that."

Rieko Ioane is a surprise inclusion in New Zealand's team for the first Test. Photo: Getty ImagesAll Blacks' youngster Rieko Ioane has usurped Julian Savea in the left wing spot, while skipper Kieran Read has been cleared to play.

Read returns after being sidelined for eight weeks with a broken thumb and Ryan Crotty has recovered from rib damage to partner Sonny Bill Williams in the centres.

The inclusion of Auckland Blues flyer Ioane, who has played just two Tests off the bench, comes as the All Blacks target a fast, wide game against a Lions side intent on shutting them down with a rush defence while attacking with a mix of power charging and smart kicking.

"It'll be a battle of contrasting styles which makes it an intriguing Test to prepare for and to be part of," coach Steve Hansen said when naming his side on Thursday.

"It'll be a physical Test but, just as importantly, it will be a mental test."

Hansen said it was particularly pleasing to have both imposing captain Read, and the tactically astute Crotty back in the line up.

"They've both been on target to return for this game all the way through, are both in great shape and, together with the rest of the squad, they're really excited at what's ahead of us.

"This was a really tough team to pick because there were a number of players in great form vying for positions. But in the end the three selectors felt this was the best combination."

Kieran Read won't be running water this weekend. Photo: Getty ImagesSavea, with 46 tries from 53 Tests, was quiet during the All Blacks 12-try fest against Samoa which appeared to count him while Hansen was impressed by the industrious Ioane, who scored a try in the Blues win over the Lions.

"His outstanding form throughout the season this year, including against the Lions, has earned him his start on the wing," the coach said.

Savea does not even make the match-day 23 while younger brother Ardie Savea and Anton Lienert-Brown, who started against Samoa in place of Read and Crotty, will be on the bench for the first Test.

Read has played little rugby this year, after joining the Super Rugby season late after off-season wrist surgery, and then playing only three games before he broke his thumb.

The All Blacks take on the British and Irish Lions at Eden Park on Saturday, kicking off at 5:35pm AEST LIVE on FOX SPORTS and via RADIO.


New Zealand team to take on the British and Irish Lions

1. Joe Moody

2. Codie Taylor

3. Owen Franks

4. Brodie Retallick

5. Sam Whitelock

6. Jerome Kaino

7. Sam Cane

8. Kieran Read

9. Aaron Smith

10. Beauden Barrett

11. Rieko Ioane

12. Sony Bill Williams

13. Ryan Crotty

14. Israel Dagg

15. Ben Smith


16. Nathan Harris

17. Wyatt Crockett

18. Charlie Faumuina

19. Scott Barrett

20. Ardie Savea

21. TJ Perenara

22. Aaron Cruden/Lima Sopoaga

23. Anton Lienert-Brown 

Lions team to face the All Blacks

1. Mako Vunipola (ENG)

2. Jamie George (IRE)

3. Tdhg Furlong (IRE)

4. Alun Wyn Jone (WAL)

5. George Kruis (ENG)

6. Peter O'Mahony (IRE)

7. Sean O'Brien (IRE)

8. Taulupe Faletau (ENG)

9.  Conor Murray (IRE)

10. Owen Farrell (ENG)

11. Elliot Daly (ENG)

12. Ben Teo (ENG)

13. Jonathan Davies (WAL)

14. Anthony Watson (ENG)

15. Liam Williams (WAL)


16. Ken Owens (WAL)

17. Jack McGrath (IRE)

18. Kyle Sinckler (ENG)

19. Maro Itoje (ENG)

20. Sam Warburton (WAL)

21. Rhys Webb (WAL)

22. Johnny Sexton (IRE)

23. Leigh Halfpenny (WAL)