Alun Wyn Jones will captain the British and Irish Lions in Saturday’s crucial clash against the Crusaders, with Warren Gatland dropping hints on his potential Test line-up.
Conor Murray, George North, Jonathan Davies and Sean O’Brien will all start for the first time on the 2017 tour as head coach Gatland fields a potent XV to take on the runaway Super Rugby leaders.
Ireland powerhouse O’Brien starts at openside flanker, with tour skipper Sam Warburton not included in the match 23, while Owen Farrell starts at fly-half.
The Lions will be desperate to atone for Wednesday’s 22-16 loss to the Blues in Christchurch this weekend, but will face down a Crusaders outfit boasting 14 wins from 14 Super Rugby encounters.
Gatland has stuck to his promise to ensure all his 41 players receive a starting berth in the first three matches, but he has also paired some key combinations to face Scott Robinson’s potent Crusaders.
“The aim was always to start everyone in the first three matches and this selection ensures that we achieve this,” said Gatland.
“This is an experienced team with nine of the starting 15 players having featured in 2013.
“Our squad is working hard and we are seeing improvement in their performances both at training and in the games.
“Last night’s result against the Blues was disappointing and we know we can’t afford to give away so many penalties.
“We are looking forward to the clash against the Crusaders and we expect a tough game against the most successful team in Super Rugby history.”
Gatland had previously targeted the Maori All Blacks clash on June 17 as the fixture where he would be closing in on his line-up for the first Test.
But by pairing England star Farrell and Ireland scrum-half Murray here – along with slotting Ben Te’o alongside Wales centre Davies – the Crusaders clash is almost a dry run for some key cogs of a potential Test XV.
Mako Vunipola, Jamie George and Tadhg Furlong will form a powerful front-row unit, with Jones packing down with George Kruis at lock.
Taulupe Faletau starts at number eight after offering one of few bright performances in the tour-opening 13-7 win over the Provincial Barbarians.
Leinster flanker O’Brien will have Ireland team-mate and Munster hard man Peter O’Mahony for company in a back-row that will not lack for industry and grit.
Six of those who started against the Blues take a seat on the bench, with Johnny Sexton again included as a replacement – as Dan Biggar could still be shaking off a possible concussion.
England wing Anthony Watson also takes a seat on the bench, with Stuart Hogg and Liam Williams both starting in the back-three.
British and Irish Lions team to face the Crusaders on Saturday:
S Hogg (Scotland), G North, J Davies (both Wales), B Te’o (England), L Williams (Wales), O Farrell (England), C Murray (Ireland), M Vunipola, J George (both England), T Furlong (Ireland), A W Jones (Wales, capt), G Kruis (England), P O’Mahony, S O’Brien (both Ireland), T Faletau (Wales).
Replacements: K Owens (Wales), J McGrath (Ireland), D Cole, M Itoje (both England), CJ Stander (Ireland), R Webb (Wales), J Sexton (Ireland), A Watson (England).