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Dublin: 13°C Thursday 13 May 2021

O'Mahony gives strong audition for Test captaincy on good night for the Irish

Sean O’Brien, Tadhg Furlong and the other Ireland internationals were impressive.

Murray Kinsella reports from Rotorua International Stadium

THE LIONS PREPARED for next weekend’s first Test against the All Blacks with a convincing 32-10 win over the Māori All Blacks in Rotorua.

Read our match report here, but below we focus on the Irish involvement.

Johnny Sexton

Sexton needed to nail this audition and the Leinster man took his chance in impressive fashion, starting as he meant to go on with several darting runs.

Leigh Halfpenny and Jonathan Sexton celebrate winning Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

He offloaded out of contact accurately after two first-half half-breaks, showing that he is about much more than just a strong kicking game. Sexton’s link with Jonathan Davies was particularly promising too, and Warren Gatland will have noted that combination.

The decision-making from Sexton in phase play was sharp as he invariably chose wisely between hitting a hard-carrying forward or going out the back door, with the Māori All Blacks ill at ease when the Irish out-half was on the ball.

Sexton’s kicking game was excellent as well, with his 26th-minute touch finder into the right corner standing out in particular, while his bombs in the rain caused James Lowe and the Māori problems.

Owen Farrell is still hoping to be fit for the first Test but it looks like he may now be attempting to recover to fill the 12 shirt. His link with Sexton in the win over the Crusaders was exciting for the Lions and it makes sense for Gatland to get two of his finest players on the pitch at the same time, if possible.

Conor Murray

There can be little doubt that the Munster scrum-half is the best box kicker in Test rugby, although Aaron Smith would probably have something to say about that.

inpho_01225541 Source: Photosport/Andrew Cornaga/INPHO

Murray’s kick for the second Lions penalty was a prime example as he got well over four seconds of hang time around 20 metres from the initial ruck, sparking discomfort for James Lowe as he spilled the ball forward and the Māori gave up a shot at goal to Halfpenny.

Murray had a few snipes around the fringes for the Lions – getting shut down firmly by Akira Ioane at one point – and his defence was as reliable as ever.

The Lions will be competitive in many places in this Test series, and scrum-half will ensure that the All Blacks have their hands full.

Sean O’Brien

A big turnover in the second half was an important moment for O’Brien, and he could well have had another in the first half if Peyper had rewarded him for brilliant competition and a side entry from the Māori.

Sean O'Brien with Damian McKenzie Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Sam Warburton has been thought of as the better breakdown openside, but O’Brien showed his quality there and it’s worth remembering that he had three clean turnovers about the All Blacks in Dublin back in November.

O’Brien wasn’t happy with what he perceived as an elbow to his face late in the game, with his aggression in that instance typical of his performance.

He had 12 powerful carries as he took the game to the Kiwis, while three sharp passes showed that the Tullow man is not just about the physical stuff.

After another outstanding performance, it would be a real surprise if O’Brien isn’t in the Lions’ Test XV for next weekend.

Tadhg Furlong

This prime slab of Wexford beef is a joy to watch in open play and his first-half offload to Murray after Sexton had freed him showed Furlong’s high-quality skillset, as did one clever tip-on pass in the second half.

Tadhg Furlong celebrates winning Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

But a tighthead’s duties start and finish at scrum time and it was here that Furlong truly shone. He was disciplined, aggressive and utterly dominant for the scrum penalty try, and generally gave Kane Hames a torrid time in the tight.

Furlong may have the flashy skills, but he is not afraid to muscle up in contact around the pitch either and provided some strong carries and hits in phase play too.

The Lions’ starting Test tighthead.

Peter O’Mahony

The Munster captain took on the Lions’ leadership with utter comfort and he began building a rapport with referee Jaco Peyper from very early on.

Peter O'Mahony receives a hongi after the game Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The South African match official can be tricky to manage at times but O’Mahony got on his good side as the game wore on and the penalty count swung completely in the Lions’ favour in the second half.

O’Mahony was part of a dominant performance from the pack too, with his passionate leadership obvious from the stands and over the ref mic.

While his set-piece work was excellent, O’Mahony didn’t get opportunities to hit contact in phase play too often as he made just a single tackle and three carries, as well as one pass.

But the Cork man gives a team less tangible things that keep team-mates going and he is now a major contender to lead the Lions in the first Test, with Sam Warburton struggling for a starting spot.

Jack McGrath

Used off the bench again by the Lions, the Leinster loosehead helped the tourists continue their dominance up front, and he looked comfortable in open play too.

Iain Henderson, Dan Biggar, Anthony Watson, Conor Murray, Jack McGrath and Greig Laidlaw celebrate winning Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

McGrath is underrated around the pitch and his comfort on the ball is often overlooked, mainly because he’s such a solid set-piece operator. He hits rucks like a machine too, meaning he is in prime position to provide cover for Mako Vunipola in the Tests.

That said, no one should be ruling out McGrath’s chances of a Test start just yet.

Iain Henderson

The Ulster lock got a 20-minute run off the bench as he attempts to keep himself in the Test mix, although George Kruis, Maro Itoje and Alun Wyn Jones look to be marginally ahead.

Iain Henderson Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Still, if Jones misses out on making the starting XV for the Tests, Henderson arguably offers more bench impact.

He had a handful of big carries after replacing Kruis in Rotorua and he remains in consideration for Eden Park.

Source: The42 Rugby Show/SoundCloud

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Murray Kinsella

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