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wen Farrell is the surprise omission from the British and Irish Lions side to face the New Zealand Maori in what has been billed the ‘fourth Test’ of the tour after Warren Gatland ramped up the pressure on the fly-half position.
Ireland fly-half Jonathan Sexton has instead been handed his second start of the tour in what has been described as the closest selection yet to the Test side to face the All Blacks at Eden Park on June 24.
Farrell is named on the bench and is likely to see significant game time in what may prove to be a final trial game between the two play-makers, who have both started just one game on the tour so far.
Meanwhile the Ireland flanker Peter O’Mahony becomes the fourth player to lead the side and takes over the leadership role for this game from tour captain Sam Warburton, who is named on the bench.
“Peter is a proven captain with Munster who never takes a backward step and we believe that those leadership qualities will serve us well on Saturday against a quality and determined Maori All Blacks team,” Gatland said.
Sean O’Brien replaces Warburton at openside flanker and will seek to press his claims for a place in the Test side with a big performance. Warburton, however, is also likely to play at least half an hour in order to gain more game time, having played just twice in two months since picking up a knee injury playing for the Cardiff Blues against Ulster in the Pro 12 in April.
There is an opportunity too for England lock Maro Itoje who comes into the side for Alun Wyn Jones. Jones is rested after two heavy shifts in the games against the Crusaders and the Highlanders and is still expected to be named in the Test side.
“At this stage of the Tour it is important to build on the foundations that have been laid in the last few weeks,” said Gatland.
“We were obviously disappointed with the loss against the Highlanders and realise that we need to improve in several areas, including our discipline, but we feel that overall we are building well towards the Test matches.
“Every game is a big challenge, which is what we wanted, and this is an experienced Lions team with eight of the starting 15 involved in the last Test in Australia in 2013.”
Warren Gatland’s Lions play their penultimate warm-up match a week before the opening Test against New Zealand.