CJ Stander among five Irish players to start for Lions against Highlanders

CJ Stander among five Irish players to start for Lions against Highlanders

By Simon Lewis, Dunedin

The British and Irish Lions will welcome back tour captain Sam Warburton from injury on Tuesday when they take on the Highlanders in Dunedin.

Warburton has recovered from an ankle strain suffered in the opening tour game against the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians but will return at Forsyth Barr Stadium on Tuesday to lead the Lions against the 2015 Super Rugby champions.

The Welshman, who led the Lions to their 2013 series victory in Australia, missed last Saturday's 12-3 win at the Crusaders but will join a back row also featuring Ireland's CJ Stander at No.8 with England's James Haskell at blindside flanker against his former club.

Warren Gatland has named Jared Payne at full-back having started the Ulster back at outside centre in last Wednesday's defeat to the Blues, a game which saw the Ireland international limp out with a tight calf having started in partnership with Test team-mate Robbie Henshaw at inside centre.

Henshaw returns to the No.12 jersey in Dunedin and will partner Jonathon Joseph in midfield. Other Irish starters are Rory Best at hooker and Iain Henderson at lock.

"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.

CJ Stander among five Irish players to start for Lions against Highlanders

"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 defence and game management, but we know the Highlanders will be another massive test for us as a squad.”

The Highlanders, meanwhile, will be without All Black stars Aaron Smith and Ben Smith, who will remain in national camp ahead of the series warm-up Test against Samoa in Auckland this Friday.

Back rower Liam Squire is injured while the southern franchise will also be without five players on duty with the Maori All Blacks.

Fly-half Lima Sopoaga and wing Waisake Naholo have been released from All Blacks camp to represent their team while there is a place in the midfield for Malakai Fekitoa, a surprise omission from Steve Hansen's squad last week.

Highlanders: R Buckman; W Naholo, M Fekitoa, T Walden, T Li; L Sopoaga, K Hammington; D Leinert-Brown, L Coltman, S Tokolahi; A Ainley, J Hemopo; G Evans, D Hunt, L Whitelock – captain.

Replacements: G Pleasants-Tate, A Seiuli, S Halanukonuka, J Dickson, J Lentjes, J Renton, M Banks, P Osborne.

British & Irish Lions: J Payne (Ulster, Ireland); J Nowell (Exeter Chiefs, England), J Joseph (Bath Rugby, England), R Henshaw (Leinster, Ireland), T Seymour (Glasgow Warriors, Scotland); D Biggar (Ospreys, Wales), R Webb (Ospreys, Wales); J Marler (Harlequins, England), R Best (Ulster, Ireland), K Sinckler (Harlequins, England); C Lawes (Northampton Saints, England), I Henderson (Ulster, Ireland); J Haskell (Wasps, England), S Warburton (Cardiff Blues, Wales) - captain, CJ Stander (Munster, Ireland).

Replacements: K Owens (Scarlets, Wales), J McGrath (Leinster, Ireland), D Cole (Leicester Tigers, England), AW Jones (Ospreys, Wales), J Tipuric (Ospreys, Wales), G Laidlaw (Gloucester Rugby, Scotland), O Farrell (Saracens, England), E Daly (Wasps, England).

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