Lions tour: Irish flanker Peter O'Mahony primed to lead the Lions in first test

Peter O'Mahony is the leading contender to captain the Lions in the first test.
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Peter O'Mahony is the leading contender to captain the Lions in the first test.

Peter O'Mahony, the Ireland flanker, has emerged as the leading contender to captain the British and Irish Lions in the opening test match against the All Blacks on -Saturday. His leadership skills have been endorsed by assistant coach Andy Farrell.

O'Mahony looked to have sealed his place in the starting back row to face New Zealand at Eden Park in Auckland after captaining the Lions to an impressive victory over the Maori All Blacks in Rotorua last Saturday.

And he now seems set to lead the side with Lions tour captain Sam Warburton struggling to displace Sean O'Brien at openside flanker.

Sam Warburton is expected to be on the bench for the first test.
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Sam Warburton is expected to be on the bench for the first test.

Alun Wyn Jones, who led the  Lions to victory in the decisive third test in Australia four years ago, was expected to be the likely replacement if Warburton failed to regain his place but the lock is now also unlikely to start because of the exceptional form of George Kruis and Maro Itoje.

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That means O'Mahony is the clear favourite to be captain, and he received significant support when Farrell said he would be "more than comfortable" if the 27-year-old Cork man was given the job.

"To be honest, it would be the easiest team to captain because there are so many leaders out there," Farrell said on Monday. "What the guys who have captained the side have realised is they don't have to be vocal all the time, because there's always people that's helping them out. I think the balance has been great so far."

Warren Gatland, the Lions head coach, is thought to have been impressed by O'Mahony's "Munster mongrel" spirit during the tour, and it may be enough to earn the flanker the nod - despite the fact that he has captained Ireland only three times, and never against top-level opposition.

"I think it's not something that you can quantify what Munster bring to a game," Gatland said when he appointed O'Mahony to lead the Lions against the Maori. "It's a special pride, sometimes the performances they can produce, it has done consistently over the years. Being able to dig deep and bring performances from places where individuals and collectively people often can't do. That's what Peter will bring to the team."

There remains an outside chance that Warburton - who has struggled with knee and ankle injuries in recent months - may yet regain his place, possibly even in O'Mahony's position at six, given O'Brien's outstanding form against the Maori.

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Owen Farrell, who will start at fly-half after shaking off his quad injury, could also come under consideration for the captaincy but with no experience of the role on the test stage, Gatland may decide the Saracens fly-half already has enough responsibility in running the game without being burdened with leadership duties.

Meanwhile, Farrell senior claimed the Lions were ready to "take ourselves to a place individually we've not been to before" in a rallying call similar to his famous "Hurt Arena" speech to the players ahead of the third test against Australia in Sydney four years ago.

"It's going to be a hell of a game," he said. "I know we'll turn up and we're a good side brimming for a big challenge. Mentally and physically we'll be ready. It'll be interesting to see how the two teams marry together, the chemistry of that, who adapts well on the run.

"That's what the All Blacks have been very good at over the last -period of time. We've got to be aware of that.

"Physically I don't think we've disappointed so far. Will we need to up our game? Certainly we will do. I think we're going to have to take ourselves to a place that individually we've not been to before. But the boys realise that and are excited by that challenge.

"I think the game has cranked up [since 2013]. The All Blacks have certainly got better over the last four years and are reigning supreme at this moment in time. We've got to get close to that."

Asked if he felt the Lions would have enough defensive firepower to put this All Blacks side under more pressure than they had experienced before, Farrell added: "Hopefully, but there's no doubt that they'll be saying the same thing and again it's who balances that out well in the heat of the battle, isn't it? Who deals with the pressure best, who deals with the situation and makes the best decisions on the run.

"We feel that we've got a game and the players to play in all sorts of ways. We have to be careful this week of not over-coaching.

"We've got to be careful of making sure that the plan is crystal clear for them, so they can be on point come Saturday. Already it's been great that we've had a few days to get some basic stuff in them through the week and we've got to get that right.

"Come Thursday, Friday it will be over to the players and we've got to make sure that their heads are crystal clear on how they're going to go about this game."

 - The Telegraph, London

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