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Lions captaincy shocks Owens

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 6/06/2017

British and Irish Lions' Ken Owens during the press conference at the Pullman Hotel, Auckland. © PA Wire/PA Images British and Irish Lions' Ken Owens during the press conference at the Pullman Hotel, Auckland. From missing his Scarlets' Pro12 triumph to captaining the British and Irish Lions, all in the space of 10 days.

Welsh hooker Ken Owens says his selection as stand-in Lions skipper for Wednesday's clash with the Blues has come as an enormous shock.

The 30-year-old will make his debut for the Test selection at Eden Park, getting the nod over rakes Rory Best and Jamie George just three weeks after an ankle injury that threw his entire tour into doubt.

The Carmarthen-born Owens, who also leads Welsh songs in the Lions choir, hurt his ankle at Scarlets training in mid-May and missed their Pro12 run-in as a result, including a 46-22 final thrashing of Munster.

He admitted the injury had weighed on his mind before heading to New Zealand, but said he was chuffed to receive the captaincy.

Incumbent skipper and compatriot Sam Wartburton has been rested for the match.

"It was a massive worry, a nervous 72 hours, icing my foot and resting up to get into a position to rehab and get myself on the tour," Owens said.

"Becoming a British and Irish Lion is the ultimate in northern hemisphere rugby as a player, but to lead out the side is a massive honour - and to get that opportunity in the first couple of games, I'm relishing the challenge.

"Hopefully we can put in the massive performance the Lions shirt deserves."

An Owens-less Lions hobbled to a first-up 13-7 win over the provincial Barbarians in Whangarei last week, and have since come under fire for an impotent showing against mostly semi-professional opposition.

But Owens nevertheless felt that, with a completely new starting XV, the side would continue to tick upwards in Auckland.

Coach Warren Gatland's decision to go with established pairings - such as Welshmen Rhys Webb and Dan Biggar in the halves and Irishmen Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne in midfield - would aid that process.

"We know we'll have to create the momentum game on game, and improve leading into the Test matches - with 15 new guys, it's an opportunity for us to put our hands up, to raise the standards," Owens said.

Gatland, for his part, said handing the captaincy to Owens was a "logical" choice given his experience and his Scarlets side's Pro12 triumph.

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