Wellington — British and Irish Lions captain Sam Warburton has been named in an all-new starting 15 to face the Highlanders in Dunedin on Tuesday, the back rower returning to action after missing the last two contests.
Warburton was involved in the unconvincing, tour-opening win over a Provincial Barbarians side but missed the subsequent loss to the Blues and Saturday’s morale-boosting 12-3 victory over the Crusaders due to fitness concerns.
The Warren Gatland-coached Lions can expect another bruising test of their credentials with the three-match series against the All Blacks looming on the horizon.
"At this stage of the tour everyone has had a start and as coaches we are happy that all the players have had a chance to put their hand up and perform in the Lions jersey," Gatland said.
Gatland’s side has just three more tour outings before the opening match against the All Blacks in Auckland on June 24 and a similar performance in Dunedin to the one in Christchurch will go a long way towards deciding his preferred Test lineup.
"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," he added.
"We were pleased with the win against the Crusaders, especially our defence and game management, but we know the Highlanders will be another huge test for us as a squad."
With Warburton still looking to get back to full fitness after recovering from a minor ankle injury, flyhalf Dan Biggar has been passed fit to start after sustaining concussion in the 22-16 defeat to the Blues last Tuesday.
Jared Payne will start at fullback despite an ongoing
The Highlanders will be bolstered by the inclusion of three All Blacks with hooker Liam Coltman, flyhalf Lima Sopoaga and winger Waisake Naholo all included.