Four Irish stars to make Lions debuts against Blues

Four Irish stars to make Lions debuts against Blues
CJ Stander of the British and Irish Lions during a Maori welcome at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds in Waitangi, New Zealand. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile.

Ireland's Soldier Field heroes CJ Stander, Robbie Henshaw, Jared Payne and Jack McGrath will make their British & Irish Lions debut in Auckland tomorrow after being named in the team to face the Blues at Eden Park, writes Simon Lewis in Auckland.

The Blues are the first of five Super Rugby franchises to face the Lions on this 10-game tour and head coach Warren Gatland has picked an Irish quartet in his starting XV which helped bring down the All Blacks in Chicago last November, ending the world champions' record-breaking 18-Test winning streak.

Henshaw and Payne, recovered from a calf problem which forced him to miss last Saturday's tour opener in Whangarei, a laboured 13-7 win over the NZ Provincial Barbarians, will for a midfield partnership in tandem with Welsh half-backs Rhys Webb and Dan Biggar.

There are English wings in Elliot Daly and Jack Nowell while Leigh Halfpenny, the goal-kicking hero of the Lions' 2013 series win over Australia, starts at full-back.

Wales hooker Ken Owens captains the team with loosehead prop McGrath getting his first taste of tour action while Dan Cole takes the tighthead side of the scrum in front of his England team-mates Maro Itoje and Courtney Lawes in the second row.

Stander is handed the No.8 jersey by Gatland in a back row flanked by Justin Tipuric and James Haskell. Munster captain Peter O'Mahony is named as the back-row replacement on a bench which also feature six players who started last Saturday.

Ireland captain Rory Best, Joe Marler, Kyle Sinckler, Iain Henderson, Greig Laidlaw and Johnny Sexton have all been given a chance to make amends for a lacklustre team performance, excused by Gatland as being affected by jet lag just three days after the Lions' arrival in New Zealand.

Wales star Liam Williams is the outside back replacement.

Gatland, who stuck to his decision to field an all-new XV from last weekend in his objective to give all 41 squad members a start in the first week, will now have to give starts next Saturday, against the unbeaten Super Rugby leaders Crusaders in Christchurch, to Jamie George, Mako Vunipola, Tadhg Furlong, George Kruis, O'Mahony, Sean O'Brien, Conor Murray, Owen Farrell, Jon Davies, George North and Liam Williams.

“We are excited to see what this team is able to do against the Blues,” Gatland said.

“We have stated from the off that we want to give every player a start in the first three games and Wednesday is an opportunity for this set of players to show what they can do in a Lions jersey.

“It was good to get the win under our belts last weekend. The boys in the stand were itching to get their chance and they are really excited about Wednesday.

“We are expecting a big crowd at Eden Park. It will be the first of three matches there for us and we know the atmosphere will be outstanding. We are hoping for some good weather and are expecting a tough, fast and open game of rugby.

“We have a few work-ons from last weekend and we know we need to be more clinical. We created some good opportunities against the Barbarians but didn't see them through and that is something we want to improve on.”

BRITISH & IRISH LIONS: L Halfpenny (Toulon, Wales); J Nowell (Exeter, England), J Payne (Ulster, Ireland), R Henshaw (Leinster, Ireland), E Daly (Wasps, England); D Biggar (Ospreys, Wales), R Webb (Ospreys, Wales); J McGrath (Leinster, Ireland), K Owens (Scarlets, Wales) – captain, D Cole (Leicester, England); M Itoje (Saracens, England), Courtney Lawes (Northampton, England); J Haskell (Wasps, England), J Tipuric (Ospreys, Wales), CJ Stander (Munster, Ireland).

Replacements: R Best (Ulster, Ireland), J Marler (Harlequins, England), K Sinckler (Harlequins, England), I Henderson (Ulster, Ireland), P O'Mahony (Munster, Ireland), G Laidlaw (Gloucester, Scotland), J Sexton (Leinster, Ireland), L Williams (Scarlets, Wales).

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