Brisbane - The British and Irish Lions can't complain about the caliber of the opposition picked for their third warmup for the Test series against Australia, with the Reds including playmaker Quade Cooper among a dozen capped Wallabies for Saturday's tour clash.
The 2011 Super Rugby champions don't have seven current Australia squad members available, but Reds coaching director Ewen McKenzie has included nine players with international experience in his starting XV - including Cooper in his last chance to push for a recall to the national squad - and a further three on the bench.
The Lions have opened their 10-match tour with two lopsided wins, beating the Barbarians 59-8 in Hong Kong on Saturday and a below-strength Force squad 69-17 in Perth on Wednesday, sparking criticism in the British media about the level of the Western Force team and concern from coach Warren Gatland that the matches have lacked the intensity needed to prepare his squad for a three-Test series against Australia starting June 22.
"Playing against the British and Irish Lions is a once in a career type opportunity, so to be running out in front of a sold-out Suncorp Stadium crowd on Saturday will be an experience these 23 players will never forget," McKenzie said. "Our approach was always going to be to field as strong a line-up as possible and I've got every confidence in the group we've chosen to go out and compete against a very talented Lions squad."
With scrumhalf Will Genia among those unavailable due to the ongoing Wallaby training camp in Sydney, Cooper will be partnered in the halves by Nick Frisby, who has played 16 matches for the Reds.
There's more experience in the outside back combinations, with 23-Test centre Anthony Faingaa working in the midfield with Ben Tapuai, who has played seven tests for Australia, and once-capped Rod Davies and Luke Morahan on the wings. Wallabies utility Mike Harris and winger Dom Shipperley have been selected on the bench, along with big No 8 Radike Samo, a 23-test veteran.
Despite missing imposing locks James Horwill and Rob Simmons, the Reds forward pack has a wealth of Super Rugby experience and will be led by prop Greg Holmes, who has played 103 times for the Reds and has 13 Test caps. Loosehead Ben Daley (3) and hooker James Hanson (1) have won Test caps for Australia and have each played more than 50 Super Rugby games. Flank Beau Robinson has only played a single Test but was an integral part of the backrow that helped power Queensland's winning Super Rugby campaign two seasons ago.
The Reds produced an upset win over the Lions in 1971 and had a narrow 19-15 loss to the British and Irish tourists in 1989. The Lions won the corresponding match 42-8 in 2001 on their last tour to Australia.
"We've spoken as a group about the significance of these opportunities and there isn't a player out there who wouldn't want to replicate the heroics of the 1971 Reds side," McKenzie said. "History suggests that's a mammoth challenge, but we'll go out there on Saturday with plenty of good intentions and with a commitment to giving a strong account of ourselves across the entire 80 minutes."
The Lions lost the 2001 series 2-1 to Australia, then lost 3-0 in New Zealand in 2005 and 2-1 in South Africa in 2009 and are desperate to break the drought that extends back to their last series victory in 1997.
Deans will be in the crowd Saturday keeping a close watch on Cooper, who had been his first choice N0 10 at the 2011 World Cup but has fallen out of favor after making remarks about the "toxic" environment in the Wallabies squad.
James O'Connor has the inside running after being selected as the only obvious choice as starting flyhalf in Deans' initial 25-man squad last month. But there's still speculation 38-test playmaker Cooper can force his way back into the squad, among six players to be added on Tuesday, with an impressive performance against the Lions.
Other Wallabies missing from the Reds lineup include openside flank Liam Gill, prop James Slipper, winger Digby Ioane and hooker Saia Faingaa.
Gatland is set to announce his squad in Brisbane on Thursday night, when Ireland prop Cian Healy will also face a disciplinary hearing after being cited for allegedly biting Force scrumhalf in the 17th minute of Wednesday's match in Perth.
15 Ben Lucas, 14 Rod Davies, 13 Ben Tapuai, 12 Anthony Faingaa, 11 Luke Morahan, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Nick Frisby, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Beau Robinson, 6 Eddie Quirk, 5 Ed O'Donoghue, 4 Adam Wallace-Harrison, 3 Greg Holmes, 2 James Hanson, 1 Ben Daley
Substitutes: 16 Albert Ane, 17 Sam Denny, 18 Jono Owen, 19 Radike Samo, 20 Jarrad Butler, 21 Jono Lance, 22 Mike Harris, 23 Dom Shipperley
British and Irish Lions: