PAUL O'CONNELL says he is "delighted" to seal his comeback from serious injury by captaining the Lions in Hong Kong tomorrow.
Only a few months ago, the 33-year-old Munster and Ireland lock did not expect to be part of what is now his third Lions mission.
But with tour skipper Sam Warburton resting a knee injury, O'Connell takes over as leader against the Barbarians.
"I suppose around Christmas, and even two or three months after Christmas, I certainly thought I wouldn't be here, so to be here and now captaining the side is fantastic," said O'Connell, who was laid low by groin and back problems.
"I am delighted. It's a very exciting occasion. We've had a few great weeks, and it has gone up another level since the Leicester boys and the Leinster boys came in (last weekend).
"I am disappointed, obviously, for Sam. He has run a great ship the last few weeks."
O'Connell, meanwhile, is determined for the tour to begin in a successful fashion.
"I remember the first game we had in South Africa in 2009. It was a very tough game, and we didn't play fabulously well, but we finished well and got the win," he said.
"It got us moving in the right direction, and if we can do that again this weekend it will be great.
"The guys have just completely dived into the whole thing – we are very tight already – and there is a big buzz, a big excitement about making this tour very special."
Solitary Irishman O'Connell will take charge of a team containing nine Welshmen – including the entire back row of Dan Lydiate, Justin Tipuric and Toby Faletau – three Scots and two Englishmen.
Gatland described Wales flanker Warburton's absence from the Baa-Baas encounter as "precautionary".
"Sam has just got a little knock," Gatland said. "He has had a little bit of a sore knee for the last 10 days, and the medics have just given him an injection and said just to stay off it for about five days.
"He was desperate to play, but we felt just so early in the tour it was not worth the risk. It is just precautionary, and there are two or three players in the same boat.
"Seán O'Brien has bruising on the bone, Rob Kearney's hamstring is just a little bit tight and Gethin Jenkins' calf is a little bit tight as well.
"They are all hopeful and confident of being fit for either the (Western) Force game next Wednesday or the game (against Queensland Reds) in Brisbane.
"We want to go out and play rugby, and be positive about the way we play. We will move the ball, we want to score lots of tries.
"We want to go and show the Australian public that we are capable of moving the ball and scoring lots of points.
"But the whole focus is about coming back with a Test series win, and if we need to be pragmatic, then we will do that as well.
"We feel we have got a squad and the ability to play any type of game, whatever conditions are thrown at us."
Gatland added that he has "no preconceived ideas" about the make-up of his first Test team to tackle Australia.
"What we've always said is that everyone will get a start in the first three games, and we will look at certain combinations, mixing and matching a little bit," he said.
"The great thing at the moment is there is a huge amount of competition within the squad.
"I think a lot of players feel that if they play well and put their hand up they've got a chance of being selected."