British Lions

Gatland has gambled with Test selection - media

2017-06-22 20:15
Warren Gatland (Getty)

London - British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland has taken a gamble with his bold selection for the first Test with world champions New Zealand, British media claimed on Thursday. 

Gatland - who is looking to become only the second coach to secure a Lions Test series win over the All Blacks - ditched tour captain and 2013 winning Lions skipper Sam Warburton replacing him with Irish backrow forward Peter O'Mahony. 

Other familiar faces from the 2013 series victory over Australia such as Wales wing George North and fullback Leigh Halfpenny - along with Warburton all players nurtured by Gatland in the Wales set-up - are also missing. 

Warburton - who lost his role as Wales captain for the Six Nations to regain form as a player - and Halfpenny make the replacements bench. 

Warburton is the first Lions tour captain not to start the first Test since Doug Prentice voluntarily stepped aside for a match against New Zealand in 1930 - the Lions won 6-3. 

"Lions coach Warren Gatland has taken the biggest gamble of his career by axing his 2013 stars," opined the Daily Mail. 

"Gatland has gone for broke with dazzling pair (England wing) Elliot Daly and (Wales fullback) Liam Williams in the back three as the tourists prepare for all-out attack at Eden Park." 

The Times also takes the same line headlining the selection as "Warren Gatland's big Lions gamble". 

Like many in the British media it expresses surprise outstanding England lock Maro Itoje is only on the bench but surmises it is a measure to try and halt the All Blacks habit of scoring liberally in the last quarter. 

"Itoje's selection on the bench was a surprise but the plan is clear," it commented. 

"New Zealand kill off teams with a second-half surge. In 29 home games since Steve Hansen took charge, they have outscored their opponents 279-91 in the final 20 minutes. 

"Itoje and (replacement prop) Kyle Sinckler will be challenged to counter that threat by making big impacts off the bench." 

The Times described the concussion-prone O'Mahony's ascent as "remarkable" whilst adding Gatland's selection declared intent to take the game to the All Blacks. 

"The unexpected selections of Williams and Daly ahead of Leigh Halfpenny and George North point to a recognition by Gatland that his side need to offer more threat in attack," it said. 

The Guardian remarks Itoje was not even born the last time New Zealand lost a Test at Saturday's venue Eden Park in July 1994. 

Former All Black flyhalf great Andrew Mehrtens praised the selection of Williams at fullback.

"I've been very impressed by the Lions. It's a strong side and I can't wait for the Test," he told BBC radio. 

"I've loved Liam Williams and have done since he had a great tour here with Wales. He brings something extra - his combination, his counter-attacking." 

However, former combative England hooker Brian Moore was not so optimistic. 

"I thought Warren Gatland would go with George North on the wing," he told BBC radio. 

"That's because you'd want your combination to have played more than once. It's a risk picking these players as they may not gel in the way you would want them to."

Teams:

New Zealand

15 Ben Smith, 14 Israel Dagg, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody

Substitutes: 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

British & Irish Lions

15 Liam Williams (Scarlets/WAL), 14 Anthony Watson (Bath/ENG), 13 Jonathan Davies (Scarlets/WAL), 12 Ben Te'o (Worcester/ENG), 11 Elliot Daly (Wasps/ENG), 10 Owen Farrell (Saracens/ENG), 9 Conor Murray (Munster/IRL), 8 Taulupe Faletau (Bath/ENG), 7 Sean O'Brien (Leinster/IRL), 6 Peter O'Mahony (captain - Munster/IRL), 5 George Kruis (Saracens/ENG), 4 Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys/WAL), 3 Tadhg Furlong (Leinster/IRL), 2 Jamie George (Saracens/ENG), 1 Mako Vunipola (Saracens/ ENG)

Substitutes: 16 Ken Owens (Scarlets/WAL), 17 Jack McGrath (Leinster/IRL), 18 Kyle Sinckler (Harlequins/ENG), 19 Maro Itoje (Saracens/ ENG), 20 Sam Warburton (Cardiff/WAL), 21 Rhys Webb (Ospreys/WAL), 22 Johnny Sexton (Leinster/IRL), 23 Leigh Halfpenny (Toulon/WAL)

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