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'It was a tough call' - O'Mahony goes from captain to out of the Lions' Test 23

The Munster man has been left out of the second Test squad.

Murray Kinsella reports from Wellington

AFTER WARREN GATLAND confirmed his match day 23 for the second Test against the All Blacks to his players – confirming what Peter O’Mahony would have feared was coming – the Munster man made his way over to Sam Warburton.

O’Mahony had been dropped completely from the Lions squad, with Warburton coming into the team in the six shirt and also assuming the captaincy the Irishman held for the first Test.

Peter O'Mahony O'Mahony is out of the Lions' 23. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

A bitter, bitter pill to swallow, but O’Mahony did what any other player would have done.

“Peter came up to me and congratulated me and shook my hand, which was nice of him,” said Warburton, “but everyone does that.

“When we have selection meetings, they name the team and not much is said afterwards, but everyone makes the effort to congratulate each other. For me, that hasn’t happened with my club or country.”

That probably says more about Cardiff Blues and Wales, but the Lions have seen O’Mahony reacting the right way to his fall from grace.

He will naturally be feeling the pain privately, yet his Ireland team-mate Sean O’Brien points out that the 27-year-old has not dipped in his support for those selected.

“He’s as professional as ever,” said O’Brien. “It’s a tough one on Pete, but he trained incredibly well today and he knows it’s about the bigger picture and about the squad. That’s the type of fella he is.”

O’Mahony’s Lions debut as captain certainly didn’t go the way he would have hoped. While he was as strong as ever in the lineout, winning five on the Lions’ throw and stealing one from the All Blacks, his impact around the pitch was not as notable.

While the Lions’ use of the back rows in wide channels didn’t help him get into the game, there were just two carries from O’Mahony and a single pass. Defensively, he made 13 tackles but four of those efforts were passive on a day when the Lions needed to be dominant in the hit.

The Cork man couldn’t quite get a grip on the breakdown for the Lions either, and this has been one of the key focuses for Gatland after the first Test defeat.

The Lions boss said it was “a tough call” to leave O’Mahony out completely, but he underlined that breakdown focus once again in explaining his decision to bring in Warburton instead.

Peter O'Mahony comes off for Sam Warburton O'Mahony was replaced by Warburton last weekend. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“We need to get some pressure on the ball and that’s something Sam is excellent at doing and he has got some rugby under his belt now,” said Gatland.

So it is that O’Mahony misses out on the second Test, with his Munster team-mate CJ Stander taking the replacement back row slot.

“We could have put Peter on the bench and we had a long discussion about that, but CJ had an outstanding Six Nations and was good the other night with his carries and his physicality, so the impact he is able to bring off the bench could be significant,” continued Gatland.

“Look, Peter has been very unlucky. He has done a great job for us in terms of the games he has been involved in and the captaincy. He’s unlucky enough that we can have got choices and can make changes and use different combinations.”

Now Gatland expects to see Warburton and openside flanker Sean O’Brien have a ferocious go at the All Blacks.

“Sam has been brilliant,” said Gatland. “He knows he was a little bit short of game time. We need to be more effective at the breakdown and competing more. The All Blacks got some go-forward and some quick, quality ball last week so we need to be more effective. His role is to get in there.

“Even though he is playing six, he is as good as any player in world rugby in terms of being able to get on the ball and either create turnovers, win penalties or slow the ball down. He’s well aware of his role and making sure defensively he gets pretty hard off the line and wins those defensive collisions.

“We saw that when he came on [in the first Test], the impact that he had. Hopefully that combination with Sean O’Brien works effectively. Sean has had an outstanding tour to date and I think the balance of those two will be pretty good.”

Meanwhile, the decision to start Johnny Sexton and Owen Farrell alongside each other in the midfield provides the Lions with greater distribution and kicking threats.

Alun Wyn Jones comes off for Maro Itoje Alun Wyn Jones has retained his spot. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

It’s the Lions’ decision to back Alun Wyn Jones in the second row that has raised most eyebrows, however.

Maro Itoje was always likely to come in and George Kruis pays the price for a weak first Test, and many had expected Jones to miss out too after his own underperformance.

But Gatland has backed the Welsh lock once again, with Courtney Lawes restricted to a bench role and Iain Henderson missing out altogether.

“It’s a big game for him,” said Gatland of Jones. “He was a bit disappointed with last week and how it went. He’s pretty focused and pretty motivated. It’s potentially a one-on-one challenge with his opposition.

“Normally in the past when he’s had those sort of challenges he has really fronted up in the next game. He’s trained well this week and I think he’s looking forward to Saturday night.”

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Murray Kinsella

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