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O'Brien not an option


Jonathan Sexton. Photo: Getty Images

Jonathan Sexton. Photo: Getty Images

Jonathan Sexton. Photo: Getty Images

AS EXPECTED, four Irish Lions – Brian O'Driscoll, Jonny Sexton, Jamie Heaslip and Paul O'Connell – have been named in Warren Gatland's starting 15 to face Australia in Saturday's first Test in Brisbane, but the real surprise is that there are no Irish replacements on the bench.

England's Toby Faletau or Sean O'Brien were expected to offer back-row cover, but instead it is Wales blindside Dan Lydiate who will be the option on Saturday.

Despite impressing since his arrival Down Under last week, Munster and Ireland's Simon Zebo also misses out on the matchday 23, with Scotland's Sean Maitland preferred.

The former Crusaders flyer will cover wing and full-back after Gatland named Welsh giants George North and Alex Cuthbert on either wing and Leigh Halfpenny at full-back.

New Zealander Gatland has picked eight Welsh players in his starting line-up and made Sam Warburton captain, as expected, for the Brisbane blockbuster.

Five of the seven backline positions will be filled by Welshmen, with only veteran Irish centre O'Driscoll and fly-half Jonathan Sexton to supplement the Red Dragons backs. O'Driscoll will partner Jonathan Davies in the midfield after Jamie Roberts and Manu Tuilagi were both ruled out with injury.

"Hopefully they will be available for next week," said Gatland, looking ahead to the second Test in Melbourne on June 29.

In the forward pack, Warburton will be joined by compatriots Adam Jones, who will anchor the scrum at tighthead prop, and Alun Wyn Jones, who will combine with former Lions skipper Paul O'Connell in the second row.

The starting 15 includes just three Englishmen in flanker Tom Croft and front-rowers Tom Youngs and Alex Corbisiero.

Mako Vunipola was expected to feature at loosehead prop at the Suncorp Stadium, but he lost out to Corbisiero.

Corbisiero was a late arrival Down Under, rerouting from England's tour of Argentina after Cian Healy and Gethin Jenkins were forced home through injury, and has started only one match, the 64-0 rout of the Combined Country XV.

But his 94 minutes of rugby for the Lions convinced Gatland that he is a safer option to start against the Wallabies.

"Technically Alex is probably a little bit sounder and potentially we feel we might have a little bit of an edge at scrum time, but there's no doubt Mako will have an impact for us coming off the bench," he said.

British and Irish Lions (to face Australia at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane, on Saturday June 22): L Halfpenny (Wales); A Cuthbert (Wales), B O'Driscoll (Ireland), J Davies (Wales), G North (Wales); J Sexton (Ireland), M Phillips (Wales); A Corbisiero (England), T Youngs (England), A Jones (Wales), A-W Jones (Wales), P O'Connell (Ireland), T Croft (England), S Warburton (Wales, capt), J Heaslip (Ireland).

Replacements: R Hibbard (Wales), M Vunipola (England), D Cole (England), G Parling (England), D Lydiate (Wales), B Youngs (England), O Farrell (England), S Maitland (Scotland).