Gatland gambles New Zealand series with daring duo

Gatland has gambled by bringing in Johnny Sexton to play at fly-half alongside England’s Owen Farrell who will feature at inside centre insted of Ben Te’o.

Sexton and Farrell are renowned for their playmaking abilities though Farrell will concede 14 kilogrammes in weight as the first line of defence against the All Blacks Sonny Bill Williams .

“The combination does open some opportunities for us if we do get the ball back to attack and that is why we have gone with the combinations we have,” said Gatland. “From an attacking perspective it has given us more of an attack with the 10-12 combination.”

Whether the switch will be enough to perplex the well-oiled All Blacks machine remains to be seen especially since the Lions were patchy in attack.

To remedy those failings, Gatland recalled tour skipper Sam Warburton in place of Peter O’Mahony and Maro Itoje will start at lock at the expense of George Kruis.

“The message from last Saturday is pretty clear,” said Warburton. “Penalty counts have to be in single figures. We have to improve our all-round game from a physicality point of view – be that at the breakdown, in the line out or in the scrum. New Zealand were excellent in the first Test and we gave away penalties because they exerted pressure on us so it will be about managing that pressure. But that is easier said than done.”

Changes due to injuries

New Zealand’s changes have been forced through injuries. Waisake Naholo takes the right wing role with Israel Dagg moving to full-back to replace Ben Smith who misses the game due to a concussion.

Anton Lienert-Brown starts at centre for Ryan Crotty who is nursing sore hamstrings.

“While it’s disappointing to lose both Ben Smith and Ryan Crotty, it creates an opportunity for others,” All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen said. “Israel Dagg is a world class back three player as is Anton in the midfield.”

Despite a convincing 30-15 scoreline from last week’s game in Auckland, Hansen conceded the outcome could have been different.

“In reality, last week’s Test could’ve gone the other way had they taken more of their chances. Our job will be to make sure that we shut down their counter-attack better than we did last weekend.”

“The job is far from done,” Hansen added. “It’s going to require us to take our game to a higher level. It’s going to be very demanding, physically and mentally. We’re aware the British and Irish Lions have their backs to the wall and will chuck everything at us to keep themselves alive in the series. They are a quality side who we respect immensely.”

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