Sexton and Farrell both to start
The British and Irish Lions have gone with two playmakers as they look to level their series against the All Blacks.
Johnny Sexton will start at No 10, with Owen Farrell shifting out to No 12, in one of three personnel changes Warren Gatland has made for the second test in Wellington tomorrow.
Tour captain Sam Warburton also comes into the starting XV, replacing last weekend’s skipper Peter O’Mahony at No 6, while young lock Maro Itoje replaces George Kruis.
The decision to play Sexton and Farrell means Ben Te’o drops to the bench, despite being one of the Lions’ most impressive players during the 30-15 loss in Auckland last weekend. Kruis and O’Mahony have dropped out of the match day squad entirely.
Using the Irish and English first-fives in tandem had been widely mooted prior to the tour, but it goes against form for Gatland, who usually prefers to have two ball carriers in his midfield.
The pair have played just 76 minutes together so far on tour - 52 against the Crusaders, when an early injury to Jonathan Davies forced Gatland to reshuffle his backline, and 24 at the end of the first test - and this will be the first time they have featured together from the start of a match.
They didn’t create a lot against the All Blacks last weekend, as the Lions sought to get back into the game, but the onus will be on them to create plenty in Wellington.
That Itoje has come in is no shock, but it is intriguing that he is replacing Kruis, his Saracens and England teammate, and not Alun Wyn Jones, the Welsh veteran.
The other change - Warburton in for O’Mahony - wasn’t unexpected either, with the Welsh loose forward impressive off the bench last weekend.
In a statement announcing his team, Gatland said the SextonFarrell combination gave him an attacking option, with both of them playing well so far on tour.
‘‘We created opportunities in the first test and there were a few that we didn’t finish,’’ Gatland said.
‘‘There were lots of positives from the first test but we were disappointed that we put ourselves in a position to put the All Blacks under pressure and to get back into the game and we let it slip.
‘‘This is a big chance for these players to go out and show what they are capable of on Saturday night. For the players retained from the first test it’s an opportunity for them to step up and to show an improvement because individually they were disappointed and you have another group coming in who are also desperate to seize their chance.’’
Gatland also addressed the changes to his forward pack.
‘‘We saw Maro’s impact in the first test and he will bring an edge and a physicality, as will Sam Warburton in terms of pressure on the ball.
‘‘It’s tough on Peter O’Mahony who has done a brilliant job for us. We had to look at the bench and we felt that CJ Stander’s ball carrying and defence was the right choice for the bench. You have to make the tough calls and pick what is the right team and the right combinations for a test match.’’
On the bench, Courtney Lawes and CJ Stander have come in to fill the holes left by Itoje and Warburton’s promotions, while Jack Nowell replaces Leigh Halfpenny as the third back.
Owen Farrell will shift out to No 12 for Saturday’s second test, with Ben Te’o dropping to the bench.