Owen Farrell’s injury has overshadowed the build up to the British and Irish Lions’ biggest match of the tour so far against Maori All Blacks on Saturday.
Fly-half Farrell may miss the first Test against the All Blacks on 24 June after a quadriceps injury in training, with Johnny Sexton likely to fill in.
The Irishman starts Saturday’s game in Rotorua, which may be a tour-defining game for Warren Gatland’s side.
Victory would give the Lions confidence and momentum before the Test series.
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- ‘Sexton has everything to prove in Farrell absence’
Sexton, instrumental in the series win in Australia in 2013, has a “little bit of his mojo back”, according to Gatland, and he starts at fly-half as he looks to assert himself on this tour.
Another 2013 hero, Leigh Halfpenny – perhaps fortunate to be selected in the squad in the first place – may now be set for a crucial goal-kicking role in Farrell’s absence, and the Welshman is picked at full-back.
Although the Lions wingers have yet to fire on this trip, Anthony Watson and George North have the chance to nail down their Test spots.
The bulk of the forward pack played in Christchurch when the Lions bullied the Crusaders, which means another start for Sean O’Brien on the open-side flank.
A big performance from the Irishman would likely cement his place for next weekend, which could mean tour captain Sam Warburton misses out.
The Maori come fully loaded, with Tawera Kerr-Barow and Nehe Milner-Skudder among the All Blacks included in a talented squad.
Who should be Warren Gatland’s first choice number 10?
Analysis: ‘A must-win game’
The victory over the Crusaders showed a template to beat New Zealand sides, but the inaccuracy of the Lions’ displays in the defeats by the Blues and the Highlanders has acted as a stark warning before the Test series.
The Maori’s star-studded backline will surely ruthlessly punish any sloppiness from the tourists, but the Lions forwards should dominate up front, as was the case in Christchurch.
And while many Lions players – especially in midweek – have struggled to do themselves justice, the likes of Mako Vunipola, George Kruis, Taulupe Faletau and Conor Murray are in fine form.
The Lions should, and must, win this game.
What they say
Lions head coach Warren Gatland: “This tour isn’t about Sam Warburton, it’s about putting the squad first, so if he isn’t involved in the first Test he will fully understand that.”
Maori head coach Colin Cooper: “We’re really excited as a group by the opportunity we have to represent New Zealand, Maoridom and the fans that will descend on Rotorua this weekend.”
7: The number of forwards selected by the Lions for the Maori game who also started in the win over the Crusaders.
12: Penalties conceded by the Lions against the Highlanders on Tuesday – a costly number.
28,000: Number of supporters expected at the Rotorua International Stadium.
What do the locals say?
“Maori All Blacks set for all-out attack” – Rotorua Daily Post.
“Leigh Halfpenny at full back is pedestrian. Why not take a risk?” – Kiwi journalist and commentator Jim Kayes on BBC 5 live.
“NZ, it’s been a pleasure. Over & out….”
Lions full back @stuartwhogg after his tour-ending injury.
Maori All Blacks: J Lowe; N Milner-Skudder, M Proctor, C Ngatai, R Ioane; D McKenzie, T Kerr-Barlow; K Hames, A Dixon (capt), B May, J Wheeler, T Franklin, A Ioane, E Dixon, L Messam.
Replacements: H Elliot, C Eves, M Renata, L Price, K Pryor, B Hall, I West, R Thompson.
Lions: L Halfpenny (Wales); A Watson (England), J Davies (Wales), B Te’o (England), G North (Wales); Sexton, C Murray (both Ireland); M Vunipola, J George (both England), T Furlong (Ireland), M Itoje, G Kruis (both England), P O’Mahony (capt), S O’Brien (both Ireland), T Faletau (Wales).
Replacements: K Owens (Wales), J McGrath (Ireland), K Sinckler (England), I Henderson (Ireland), S Warburton (Wales), G Laidlaw (Scotland), D Biggar (Wales), E Daly (England).
The tour schedule
‘Room for improvement’
Before the match, England women take on their New Zealand counterparts on the same pitch less than two months before the start of the 2017 World Cup.
Two tries from Lydia Thompson, added to by Abbie Scott and Kay Wilson, saw England extend their unbeaten run to eight games with a 27-20 win over Canada in Christchurch on Tuesday.
However, world champions England have not beaten the Black Ferns in New Zealand since 2001.
“We know we’ve got room to improve against New Zealand, but we know it will click,” England captain Sarah Hunter told BBC Sport.
” We’re at a point where the strength across the home nations is such it would be good to see the Lions concept emulated in the women’s game.”
England match-day 23 v New Zealand: D Waterman, L Thompson, E Scarratt, R Burford, K Wilson, K Mclean, N Hunt, R Clark, A Cokayne, S Bern, T Taylor, A Scott, A Matthews, M Packer, S Hunter, V Fleetwood, V Cornborough, J Lucas, H Millar-Mills, I Noel-Smith, LT Mason, A Reed, E Scott.