By Simon Lewis, Rotorua
Peter O'Mahony has been named captain of the British & Irish Lions for Saturday's showdown with the Maori All Blacks at Rotorua International Stadium.
The Munster skipper has been given the honour for a game billed as the “fourth Test” and is the fourth man to lead the Lions in New Zealand this summer, following Welsh trio Sam Warburton, Ken Owens and Alun Wyn Jones.
"Peter is a proven captain with Munster,” Lions head coach Warren Gatland said. “He 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.”
As expected Gatland has named a strong side for the fifth game of the 2017 tour, which comes just seven days out from the first Test against the world champion All Blacks at Eden Park, Auckland on June 24.
There may be some smokescreens, with expected starting Test fly-half Owen Farrell named on the bench, giving Ireland's Johnny Sexton a further chance to stake his claim to regain the number 10 jersey in which he led the Lions to their 2013 series victory over Australia.
Sexton has upped his performance levels in each of his three appearances to date, from a disappointing start in game one against the Provincial Barbarians to two impressive and extensive turns off the bench against the Blues and Crusaders, where he successfully partnered Farrell in a 10-12 axis that could well be reformed as the game goes on in anticipation of the Test opener the following Saturday.
Sexton will start alongside scrum-half Conor Murray, who returns following an impressive first appearance in the 12-3 win over the Crusaders last Saturday, and Ben Te'o, who starts at inside centre, having moved to outside centre in Christchurch when Jon Davies was withdrawn for a Head Injury Assessment.
Davies returns for duty this weekend having completed his return to play protocols and will link with a back three of wings George North and Anthony Watson with Leigh Halfpenny at full-back.
The forward pack will see O'Mahony reunited in last week's back row that tamed the unbeaten Crusaders, with Sean O'Brien given the chance to nail down the openside flanker berth ahead of tour captain Warburton, named on the bench having returned form an ankle strain in Tuesday's defeat to the Highlanders.
Taulupe Faletau completes the back row at No.8.
The front five is the returned from the Crusaders win except for lock Alun Wyn Jones, pressed into a lengthy spell off the bench last Tuesday in Dunedin when Courtney Lawes was concussed.
His place goes to Maro Itoje, as the Wales captain stays on the bench. Itoje will form his familiar second row partnership with Saracens and England team-mate George Kruis behind a front row featuring club-mates Mako Vunipola and Jamie George with Tadhg Furlong at tighthead.
"At this stage of the Tour it is important to build on the foundations that have been laid in the last few weeks.
"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.”
British & Irish Lions (v Maori All Blacks): L Halfpenny (Toulon, Wales); A Watson (Bath, England), J Davies (Scarlets, Wales), B Te'o (Worcester, England), G North (Northampton, England); J Sexton (Leinster, Ireland), C Murray (Munster, Ireland); M Vunipola (Saracens, England), J George (Saracens, England), T Furlong (Leinster, Ireland); M Itoje (Saracens, England), G Kruis (Saracens, England); P O'Mahony (Munster, Ireland) – captain, S O'Brien (Leinster, Ireland), T Faletau (Bath, Wales).
Replacements: K Owens (Scarlets, Wales), J McGrath (Leinster, Ireland), K Sinckler (Harlequins, England), I Henderson (Ulster, Ireland), S Warburton (Cardiff Blues, Wales), G Laidlaw (Gloucester, Scotland), O Farrell (Saracens, England), E Daly (Wasps, England).