The British and Irish Lions could be without two key players for next week’s first Test against New Zealand after injury sidelined Owen Farrell and head coach Warren Gatland hinted at omitting Sam Warburton.
England fly-half Farrell suffered a minor thigh strain in training on Thursday, ruling him out of Saturday’s tour match against an imposing Maori All Blacks side in Rotorua.
The Saracens star had been due to start on the bench, with Jonathan Sexton wearing No10, and the Irishman could keep the shirt for the first Test if Farrell struggles to recover in time.
Waburton is among the replacements against the Maori All Blacks as the Lions tour captain plays his way back to match sharpness following injury.
Ireland flanker Peter O’Mahony takes the armband on Saturday and Gatland insists it remains down to Warburton to force his way into a back row that has impressed so far Down Under.
“Sam’s well aware of the competition there at the moment,” said Gatland. “He fully understands that that loose forward trio [O’Mahony, Sean O’Brien and Taulupe Faletau] went outstandingly well against the Crusaders.
“The challenge for them is to repeat it. And if they do, we’ll make what we think is the right selection for the Test match.
“One of the reasons we selected him as captain of the squad is that he is an absolute quality player. But this tour isn’t about Sam Warburton, it’s about putting the squad first.”
England’s Anthony Watson and Maro Itoje both start, at wing and lock respectively, with Wales’s Leigh Halfpenny replacing the injured Stuart Hogg at full-back.
The Maori All Blacks have named nine New Zealand internationals, including Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Damian McKenzie and Reiko Ioane in their XV to play the Lions.