O'Mahony to captain Lions in 1st test vs. New Zealand
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Ireland flanker Peter O'Mahony will captain the British and Irish Lions in the first test against New Zealand on Saturday, assuming the leadership from tour captain Sam Warburton who starts on the bench.
England's Owen Farrell has recovered from a leg injury to start at flyhalf in the team named on Thursday by head coach Warren Gatland.
Gatland produced a number of surprises, naming Liam Williams at fullback ahead of Leigh Halfpenny and Wales veteran Alun Wyn Jones at lock ahead of Maro Itoje.
Elliot Daly played his way into the team on the left wing with strong performances in midweek matches while New Zealand-born Ben Te'o will start at inside center.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen also sprung surprises, naming Rieko Ioane to make his first test start on the left wing in place of Julian Savea.
Ioane has won his two previous test caps off the bench.
Ryan Crotty will return from a rib injury to play at center outside Sonny Bill Williams in a new midfield combination, while Anton Lienert-Brown has been named on the bench.
Kieran Read returns to captain the All Blacks after being sidelined for almost two months with a broken thumb. Read missed New Zealand's warm-up match against Samoa last Friday while his fellow backrower Jerome Kaino, also named to start on Saturday, played his first match in six weeks against Samoa after recovering from knee surgery.
The fitness of Read, Kaino and Crotty will be a major issue for the All Blacks in the first match of the three-test series.
Flyhalves Aaron Cruden and Lima Sopoaga have been bracketed on the All Blacks bench as Cruden continues his recovery from a knee injury. A decision on who will play in the Eden Park test will be made on Friday.
Hansen welcomed the return of Read and Crotty to his starting lineup for what he said would be a physical test match.
"They've both been on target to return for this game all the way through," he said "(They) are both in great shape and, together with the rest of the squad, they're really excited at what's ahead of us.
"I'd also like to congratulate Rieko on getting his first start for the All Blacks. His outstanding form throughout the season, including against the Lions, has earned him a start on the wing."
Savea has scored 46 tries in his 53 tests but has been out of form for some time and is seen as a likely weakness against the Lions' accurate kicking game.
Williams' selection at inside center also seems to install a defensive weakness in New Zealand's midfield. The former rugby league star has a high rate of missed tackles but is favored by the All Blacks for his ability to off-load in contact, a skill which may be valuable against the Lions' rush defense.
"We know this is a very good British and Irish Lions team, probably one of the best to have toured here," Hansen said. "It'll be a battle of contrasting styles which makes it an intriguing test to prepare for and be part of.
"It will be a physical test but, just as importantly, it will be a mental test."
O'Mahony's promotion to the Lions captaincy was expected as Wales flanker Warburton struggled against time to recover from a knee injury.
Daly's inclusion on the wing became more likely after his strong performance in the Lions' 34-6 win over the Chiefs on Tuesday. Williams was also highly effective in joining the backline from fullback in that match, while remaining solid on defense.
"Elliot Daly has been very accurate in the way he has played and we saw some excellent attacking play from Liam (Williams) on Tuesday night," Gatland said.
"We are excited about the 15 that will take the field but also the very strong and experienced bench players who will have an impact.
"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."
Halfpenny and Itoje have been named on the bench.