Gatland expects O'Mahony to lead by example for the Lions
Irishman named captain for first Test of the three-match series with New Zealand
British & Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland has backed his newly anointed Test captain Peter O'Mahony to inspire a "courageous" first Test performance and attack the All Blacks in their own backyard.
O'Mahony was handed leadership duties for Saturday's clash at the All Blacks' fortress of Eden Park despite only skippering Ireland three times, relegating tour captain Sam Warburton to the bench.
The injury-hit Warburton has struggled for form in warm-up matches, while O'Mahony's commitment was impressive as he captained the Lions to a 32-10 win over the Maori All Blacks last week.
Gatland believes that passion, coupled with an attacking intent that the Lions have only showed in glimpses so far, will be needed to topple the back-to-back world champions.
The tourists have won plaudits for their defence in the warm-up matches but New Zealand-born Gatland said that would not be enough at Eden Park, where the All Blacks have not lost for 23 years.
"We've picked a team we think are capable of playing some exciting rugby, you've got to be prepared to match the All Blacks," he said.
"We've strangled a couple of sides and we're not going to deny that's been successful but we've also got to have the ability to play."
Gatland, himself a former All Black, said the players O'Mahony will lead onto the field had to be brave enough to chance their arm in pursuit of victory.
"To beat the All Blacks you have to be courageous and play some rugby -- you have to score tries and I think we have picked a team capable of doing that," he said.
Gatland made only four changes to the starting XV that defeated the Maori, choosing England star Owen Farrell at fly-half over Ireland's Johnny Sexton.
In line with his commitment to attack, Gatland reshuffled his backline to include Liam Williams at fullback and Elliot Daly on the wing after their eye-catching performances in this week's 34-6 win over Waikato Chiefs.
They edge out Leigh Halfpenny and George North respectively, with North not even included in the match-day squad after failing to impress in the warm-up fixtures.
Perhaps surprisingly, Alun Wyn Jones comes in at lock, with Maro Itoje starting on the bench.
Gatland said his replacements, which include the likes of Warburton, Itoje and Sexton, would be vital as he seeks an 80-minute performance against strong-finishing New Zealand.
"We're excited about the 15 to take the field but we've also got a strong, experienced bench of players who can give us some real impact," he said.
Warburton's relegation had been widely anticipated and Gatland said he was determined to select players based on their tour performances, not reputations.
"We have picked a side based on form with a lot of players putting their hands up, especially from the Crusaders and Maori All Blacks games, and it was a lively selection meeting," he said.
"The win against the Chiefs was also extremely important for the squad and some players played themselves into the side."
Gatland could not resist a dig at his rival coach Steve Hansen yesterday, saying he was happy to be "getting up his nose".
Gatland again called for a truce in the "trash talk" between the two sides ahead of the first Test -- but slipped in one more jab while he was at it.
"If I'm getting up his nose, that's a good position to be in," the New Zealander said.
The build-up to the Test has been filled with taunts such as Hansen was "worried", New Zealand cheated, the Lions are too predictable and that Hansen had inside knowledge of what was going on in the Lions camp.
The All Blacks have named a strong side to face the Lions, including 12 of the starting side that thrashed Samoa 78-0 last week.
They also claim to have a plan to deal with the Lions' defensive line speed – a key weapon in their artillery – but Gatland said he was not bothered by what Hansen was saying.
"I'm not worried about Steve at all. We've got ourselves to prepare and get ready. We know it's going to be a tough encounter," he said.
"Let's let the rugby do the talking because there's been enough trash talk already."
Hansen dismissed Gatland's claim that he was worried, describing himself as "pretty cool, calm and excited", and told reporters he had not initiated any barbs at his opposite number.
"I haven't had any conversations about Gats (Gatland). I've just answered the question you blokes have asked me. It would be a very boring press conference if I sat here and said nothing," Hansen said.
"But it's not about the coach, well, it shouldn't be. It's got to be about the team and what you're trying to do as a team, and what you're trying to build.
"If you feel he's here to prove something about himself then you probably better ask him," he said, in answer to a question."
* Press Association
Published: June 22, 2017 06:08 PM