Howley backs Lions captain Warburton to fire on debut
British and Irish Lions assistant coach Rob Howley believes captain Sam Warburton could play a decisive role in the toughest match the tourists have faced so far against the Queensland Reds.
Warburton, 24, will become the 800th lion when he makes his debut against the Quade Cooper-led Super Rugby side at Lang Park after kicking his heels for the comfortable victories over the Barbarians and Western Force tour while resting a sore knee.
The injured joint remained heavily strapped at practice in Brisbane on Friday but Howley has backed the flanker to make a similar impact on Saturday to that he had when Wales hammered England to win the Six Nations earlier this year.
"It's a proud moment for Sam on Saturday night, it's probably been a frustrating couple of weeks for him," Howley told reporters at the team training camp.
"As Welshmen, we were all very proud to have Sam as captain of the British and Irish Lions. Sam is a leader by action... and I think you'll see an 'A' game from him tomorrow, like you saw against England in the Six Nations.
"Something we need is pressure on the ball and his combination with Dan Lydiate is going to be a key factor tomorrow evening.
"One thing you don't want to do against the Queensland Reds is to give them speed of ball in the contact area.
"It's a key area the contact area these days and I'm sure you'll see Sam Warburton enjoying those moments when those rucks and contacts occur."
Warburton will start at openside in an all-Welsh back row alongside blindside Lydiate and number eight Toby Faletau and they will keeping a particular eye on flyhalf Cooper, who is playing for his place in the Wallabies squad for the tests.
"Quade has the ability to do different things with the ball... he's got the ability to actually ask questions of defensive lines," Howley added.
"We've spoken about Quade, we believe he's got a special skill acquisition and I'm sure he wants to be instrumental in that game tomorrow night to put his hand up for Australia selection."
AIMING FOR PERFECTION
Owen Farrell will start opposite Cooper for the Lions and Howley believes playing with his England team mate Ben Youngs at scrumhalf will help him press his claim for the test number 10 shirt in his personal duel with Ireland's Jonny Sexton.
"I was pleased with his overall game management against the Barbarians, I thought his kick-run-pass was very good," said Howley.
"Again, we're looking for control of the game, his ability in the decision-making, as you look in every 10 and nine in that combination.
"It'll be good for him to have Ben inside him, it's a natural combination, they're used to playing with each other and that can only help our cohesion."
Warburton said on Thursday that the Lions should "reach for the stars" and aim to go through the tour unbeaten and Howley bristled when it was suggested that was putting too much pressure on the team.
"Absolutely not, I think that should be our mantra, we're coming out here and our intent is to play rugby," he said.
"You set your standards high and we always have from a Lions perspective. We were undefeated outside the tests on the last tour in 2009 and it's important that's the same because the momentum and confidence just goes to another level."
Queensland were the last Australian province to beat the Lions back in 1971 but former Lions scrumhalf Howley preferred to remember his own personal contribution to the fixture.
"The last time I played Queensland was in 2001 and I think we put 40 points on them," he said.