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Sam Warburton to return from injury to lead Lions against Highlanders

The Guardian logo The Guardian 11/06/2017 Robert Kitson in Dunedin
Sam Warburton will return to the Lions side in a bid to prove his fitness. © PA Sam Warburton will return to the Lions side in a bid to prove his fitness.

Sam Warburton will return from injury to lead the British & Irish Lions in Tuesday’s tour game against the Highlanders. The management need their skipper, who has played only 66 minutes so far, to prove his match fitness and have included him in their starting back-row for the fixture at Forsyth Barr Stadium.

With the head coach Warren Gatland looking to play his potential Test XV in Saturday’s encounter with the New Zealand Maori in Rotorua, Warburton is among several players in need of a strong game if they are to face the All Blacks on 24 June.

While those named on the bench would appear to be likelier contenders for high-profile weekend duty, the absence of the unavailable Jonathan Davies and Stuart Hogg slightly complicates that equation. Gatland’s selection would also seem to indicate most of the squad involved in the 12-3 victory over the Crusaders in Christchurch will be picked again for the keynote Maori fixture.

That potentially enhances the Test 23 prospects of, among others, Anthony Watson, Liam Williams, George North, Ben Te’o, Jamie George, Mako Vunipola, George Kruis, Maro Itoje, Peter O’Mahony and Sean O’Brien, although Gatland is still demanding a collective squad effort: “Each game is a chance for individuals to shine but more importantly it’s about a collective performance. We are building some momentum and we have improved with every game. We were obviously pleased with the win against the Crusaders, especially our defence and game management, but we know the Highlanders will be another massive test for us.”

The squad to face the Highlanders also includes James Haskell, who was based in Dunedin for a season in 2012 and made a dozen Super Rugby appearances for the local team. The All Black backline trio of Waisake Naholo, Malakai Fekitoa and Lima Sopoaga all start for the Highlanders but three other internationals – Ben Smith, Aaron Smith and Liam Squire – will sit out the game along with five players due to represent the Maori against the Lions this Saturday.

Teams

British & Irish Lions: J Payne; J Nowell, J Joseph, R Henshaw, T Seymour; D Biggar, R Webb; J Marler, R Best, K Sinckler, C Lawes, I Henderson, J Haskell, S Warburton (capt), CJ Stander.

Replacements: K Owens, J McGrath, D Cole, AW Jones, J Tipuric, G Laidlaw, O Farrell, E Daly.

Highlanders: R Buckman; W Naholo, M Fekitoa, T Walden, T Li; L Sopoaga, K Hammington; D Lienert-Brown, L Coltman, S Tokolahi, A Ainley, J Hemopo, G Evans, D Hunt, L Whitelock (capt).

Replacements: G Pleasants-Tate, A Seiuli, S Halanukonuka, J Dickson, J Lentjes, J Renton, M Banks, P Osborne.

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