Wellington - The
British and Irish Lions have thrown captain Sam Warburton straight into
the fray as they look to make a winning start to their tour of New
Warburton, who is returning from a knee injury that sidelined him in
April, will lead a powerful line-up against a Provincial Barbarians XV
in Whangarei on Saturday.
The 28-year-old Welsh flank will start alongside three national
captains - Wales' Alun Wyn Jones, Ireland's Rory Best and Scotland's
Ireland flyhalf Johnny Sexton will also bring a wealth of experience
as the Lions face a Barbarians team widely regarded as their weakest
opponent on the 10-match tour.
Coach Warren Gatland said he was looking at his veterans to provide leadership in a team that combined youth and experience.
Gatland said he was "excited and bit apprehensive" about the
much-anticipated tour kicking off in the first visit since 2005 by the
composite team of players from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
"It's a great opportunity to lay down a marker in terms of hopefully
getting the tour off to a good start," said the New Zealander, who won
17 caps for the All Blacks.
The starting XV includes five players from England, four from Wales and three each from Ireland and Scotland.
Gatland said he was looking forward to seeing Sexton and Laidlaw
combine in the backline and was pleased to have Warburton return for the
"The balance of the squad is really good, we have selected the
majority of players who were together for the training weeks in Wales
and Ireland and they have worked together and prepared well for a number
of weeks," he said.
Gatland said he hoped to give the majority of his 41-man squad a run
in the opening two matches, the second of which is against the Blues next Wednesday.
Gatland's son Bryn, 22, is expected to start at inside centre for the
Barbarians and could also turn out for the Blues next week.
Former hooker Gatland, who coached the Lions to a Test series win
over Australia in 2013, said his son's appearance was "awesome" and the
pair enjoyed some banter ahead of the Barbarians match.
"I said 'perhaps you could give me all your calls and moves' and he
said 'as long as you let me run through a big hole in the first few
minutes'," Gatland told reporters after arriving on Wednesday.
15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Ben Te’o, 11 Tommy Seymour, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Greig Laidlaw, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (captain), 6 Ross Moriarty, 5 Iain Henderson, 4 Alun Wyn Jones, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Rory Best, 1 Joe Marler
Substitutes: 16 Jamie George, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Tadgh Furlong, 19 George Kruis, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Rhys Webb, 22 Owen Farrell, 23 Jared Payne
Provincial Barbarians XV
15 Luteru Laulala, 14 Sam Vaka, 13 Inga Finau, 12 Dwayne Sweeney, 11 Sevu Reece, 10 Bryn Gatland, 9 Jack Stratton, 8 Mitchell Dunshea, 7 Lachlan Boshier, 6 James Tucker, 5 Keepa Mewett, 4 Josh Goodhue, 3 Oliver Jager, 2 Sam Anderson-Heather (captain), 1 Aidan Ross
Substitutes: 16 Andrew Makalio, 17 Tolu Fahamokoia, 18 Marcel Renata, 19 Matt Matich, 20 Peter Rowe, 21 Richard Judd, 22 Jonah Lowe, 23 Junior Ngaluafe