Simon Lewis, Hamilton
Rory Best is set to captain the British & Irish Lions against the Chiefs on Tuesday after Warren Gatland named a matchday squad missing tour skipper Sam Warburton in the final game before Saturday’s first Test with the All Blacks.
Warburton’s absence will be seen as a bost to his prospects of being included in the matchday Test squad after the Welshman continued his comeback from an ankle injury on Saturday as a back-row replacement in the 32-10 victory over the Maori All Blacks.
The Lions rolled into Hamilton on Sunday having secured a record victory over the Maori in Rotorua with the previous night’s starting XV expected to form the bulk of the team for the series opener at Eden Park next weekend.
There are expected to be some players named in the squad named to face the Chiefs who will also feature in the first Test, most likely as replacements, and head coach Warren Gatland said there was still plenty of incentive for those selected for duty at the FMG Stadium Waikato.
“We are five games into the Tour and there is still a lot to play for,” Gatland said. “Those involved on Tuesday will be playing not only for themselves in terms of further selection but also for the whole squad.”
Ireland skipper Best will captain the Lions for the first time on this tour having led the 2013 tourists against the Brumbies in Australia, also the final tour game before the opening Test. The Ulsterman packs down with England props Joe Marler and Dan Cole while Courtney Lawes has completed his return to play protocols following a concussion against the Highlanders last Tuesday and will form a second-row partnership with Ireland’s Iain Henderson.
CJ Stander has been named at No.8 against the Chiefs and the Munster star could be a casualty in terms of a Test place given Warburton’s likely inclusion as a Test replacement behind Sean O’Brien.
The backline is anchored by Grieg Laidlaw and Dan Biggar with an all-Irish centre pairing of Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne with Liam Williams named at full-back alongside English wings Elliot Daly and Jack Nowell.
The bench features all six of the players called into the squad on Saturday and drawn from nearby tours from Wales and Scotland in Auckland and Australia respectively. The two exceptions are Scottish wing Tommy Seymour and Wales captain and lock Alun Wyn Davies.
"We are here to win a Test series and we have brough in cover for the replacements bench so we can limit the number of players who need to double up, which is tough to do at this level of rugby.
"We know it is going to be another big challenge against the Chiefs who have won the Super Rugby title twice in the last five years.”
British & Irish Lions (v Chiefs): L Williams (Scarlets, Wales); J Nowell (Exeter Chiefs, England), J Payne (Ulster, Ireland), R Henshaw (Leinster, Ireland), E Daly (Wasps, England); D Biggar (Ospreys, Wales), G Laidlaw (Gloucester, Scotland); J Marler (Harlequins, England), R Best (Ulster, Ireland) - captain, D Cole (Leicester Tigers, England), I Henderson (Ulster, Ireland), C Lawes (Northampton Saints, England); J Haskell (Wasps, England), J Tipuric (Ospreys, Wales), CJ Stander (Munster, Ireland.
Replacements: K Dacey (Cardiff Blues, Wales), A Dell (Edinburgh, Scotland), T Francis (Exeter Chiefs, Wales), C Hill (Newport Gwent Dragons, Wales), A Wyn Jones (Ospreys, Wales), G Davies (Scarlets, Wales), F Russell (Glasgow Warriors, Scotland), T Seymour (Glasgow Warriors, Scotland).