Henderson misses out on second Lions Test as Sexton starts and O'Mahony axed
Johnny Sexton will start at out-half for the Lions against New Zealand in Saturday’s pivotal second Test, joining Owen Farrell in a 10/12 axis as Warren Gatland goes for broke in search of a series win.
The alteration to the tourists’ backline is one of three changes in the side named by Gatland this morning with Peter O’Mahony carrying the can for the 30-15 defeat in the first Test.
A hoped for Test start by Ulster’s Iain Henderson, or even a spot amongst the replacements, did not materialise but, as expected, last week’s captain, O’Mahony, has been dropped from the team in favour of tour skipper Sam Warburton as Gatland looks to add to his team’s fire-power at the breakdown in Wellington.
The third change sees Maro Itoje come into the side for George Kruis in a straight second-row swap. Kruis struggled badly last week as his side lost out in the physical stakes and his England colleague will be charged with taking the game to the World champions.
The inclusion of Itoje and Warburton had been well-flagged this week, but the starting role for Sexton will come as a surprise to many. Ben Te’o misses out as a result of the change despite a powerful performance at Eden Park and the combination of Sexton and Farrell represents a change of tactic for the Lions.
Sexton started all three Tests in Australia four years ago, but was left on the bench for Saturday’s loss, coming on when the Lions were chasing the game.
He struggled to link up with Farrell, who was enduring an off-day, but Gatland has liked what he’s seen from the duo when they’ve played together and their partnership could signal an expansive approach.
Robbie Henshaw is expected to be ruled out of the tour today with a damaged shoulder.
New Zealand have made two enforced changes to their team for Saturday’s rematch. Ben Smith has failed to recover from concussion, meaning Israel Dagg shifts from the wing to full-back to allow Waisake Naholo to start on the wing while hamstring victim Ryan Crotty is replaced by Aaron Lienert-Brown in the centre. Ngani Laumape, who caused the tourists problems in Tuesday’s draw with the Hurricanes, is on the bench.
Lions: L Williams; A Watson, J Davies, O Farrell, E Daly; J Sexton, C Murray; M Vunipola, J George, T Furlong; AW Jones, M Itoje; S Warburton (capt), S O’Brien, T Faletau.
Replacements: Ken Owens, Jack McGrath, Kyle Sinckler, Courtney Lawes, CJ Stander, Rhys Webb, Ben Te’o, Jack Nowell.
New Zealand: I Dagg; W Naholo, A Lienert-Brown, SB Williams, R Ioane; B Barrett, A Smith; J Moody, C Taylor, O Franks; B Retallick, S Whitelock; J Kaino, S Cane, K Read.
Replacements: N Harris, W Crockett, C Faumuina, S Barrett, A Savea, TJ Perenara, A Cruden, N Laumape.
Belfast Telegraph Digital