Warburton recalled to lead Lions against Highlanders
Tour captain Sam Warburton will return from injury to lead a reorganized British and Irish Lions lineup in their fourth tour match on Wednesday against the Dunedin-based Highlanders.
Warburton, who missed the Lions' 12-3 win over the Crusaders, joins a starting 15 which contains only one player — backrower C.J. Stander — who took part in Saturday's match at Christchurch.
Having completed his objective of giving all 41 members of his touring side a chance to play in the first three matches on tour, coach Warren Gatland is now honing the test combination he hopes to play in next Saturday's match against the New Zealand Maori.
The team he named to face the Crusaders was close to test-strength but some selections remain to be decided.
"At this stage of the tour everyone has had a start and as coaches we are happy that all the players have had a chance to put their hand up and perform in the Lions jersey," Gatland said. "Each game is a chance for individuals to shine but more importantly it's about a collective performance. We are building some momentum and we have improved with every game.
"We were obviously pleased with the win against the Crusaders, especially our defense and game management, but we know the Highlanders will be another massive test for us as a squad."
Warburton will captain the test lineup and his absence from the team that beat the Crusaders was a slight disruption to the selection process. Players selected for Wednesday's match such as the Ireland inside center Robbie Henshaw, Scotland wing Tommy Seymour, England lock Courtney Laws, Ireland hooker Rory Best and England prop Joe Marler still have selection claims to push.
New Zealand-born utility back Jared Payne will start at fullback Wednesday while tighthead Kyle Sinckler, who was impressive in the Lions' win over the Provincial Barbarians in their opening match, has another chance to shine.
Stander has been impressive in all of his outings on tour so far. Flanker James Haskell, who played several seasons for the Highlanders in Super Rugby, has been named to play on his former home ground.
Hard-working Wales lock Alun Wyn Jones, who led the Lions against the Crusaders in Warburton's absence, has been named on the bench as has England flyhalf Owen Farrell, who kicked all of the Lions' points in Christchurch.
Dan Biggar will start in the No. 10 jersey in a halves combination with Wales teammate Rhys Webb.
The Dunedin-based Highlanders have selected only three current All Blacks in their lineup.
Flyhalf Lima Sopoaga, center Malakai Fekitoa and winger Waisake Naholo have been given dispensations by the All Blacks to play in the match as all are likely to be bench players at best in the first test at Auckland on June 24.
Former All Blacks hooker Liam Coltman is also included in the Highlanders' starting lineup but scrumhalf Aaron Smith and fullback Ben Smith, expected to start for the All Blacks against the Lions, are not available.
Elliot Dixon, Ash Dixon, Joe Wheeler, Rob Thompson and Tom Franklin will miss the match because they are due to play for the New Zealand Maori against the Lions on Saturday.
"For some of these guys this will be the biggest rugby day of their careers," Highlanders assistant coach Scott McLeod said. "It is a special moment in any rugby player's life to play against the Lions. It's going to be a massive occasion."
British and Irish Lions: Jared Payne, Jack Nowell, Jonathan Joseph, Robbie Henshaw, Tommy Seymour, Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb; C.J. Stander, Sam Warburton (captain), James Haskell, Iain Henderson, Courtney Lawes, Kyle Sinckler, Rory Best, Joe Marler. Reserves: Ken Owens, Jack McGrath, Dan Cole, Alun Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric, Greig Laidlaw, Owen Farrell, Elliot Daly.
Highlanders: Richard Buckman, Waisake Naholo, Malakai Fekitoa, Teihorangi Walden, Tevita Li, Lima Sopoaga, Kayne Hammington; Luke Whitelock (captain), Dillon Hunt, Gareth Evans, Jackson Hemopo, Alex Ainley, Siate Tokolahi, Liam Coltman, Daniel Lienert-Brown. Reserves: Greg Pleasants-Tate, Aki Seiuli, Siosuia Halanukonuka, Josh Dickson, Jimmy Lentjes, Josh Renton, Marty Banks, Patrick Osborne.