Wednesday 17 January 2018

Warburton hoping for chance to play alongside powerhouse O'Brien

Conor George

Conor George

IRELAND'S Sean O'Brien is the player Lions captain Sam Warburton is most looking forward to lining out alongside during the tour of Australia.

Warburton will finally make his Lions debut against the Queensland Reds tomorrow.

He takes over at openside flanker from O'Brien, admitting that the Irish international and Justin Tipuric have set a very high standard for him to reach.

"Justin has been excellent for Wales at openside for a number of seasons and I have long been an admirer of Sean's play," said Warburton.

"I am looking forward to playing alongside all the back-rows, including Tom Croft and Jamie Heaslip, but Sean is the one player I have always wanted to see in action up close because he is such a powerful player."

Warburton's selection tomorrow will leave Rob Kearney as the only player not to have started a game on tour, although he is making progress with his hamstring injury and has his sights set on playing against the Waratahs tomorrow week.

England prop Alex Corbisiero will also fall into that category when he arrives in Brisbane.

Corbisiero has yet to be officially added to the party, having been called up as possible cover for Cian Healy should the Ireland prop be ruled out through injury or suspension.

Warburton and O'Brien can both play at blindside flanker, of course, and the captain's comments have raised the possibility of one of them being accommodated there as Lions coach Warren Gatland continues to mull over possible combinations.

"These games are about changing things up and seeing what different combinations work and what don't," said Gatland.

"On Wednesday I thought Tommy Bowe did well on the right wing and this weekend we look at him on the left.

"Similarly this game offers us a chance to have a closer look at Manu Tuilagi in his favoured outside centre position by moving Jonathan Davies to the inside."

Warburton was very generous in his praise for O'Brien and for Paul O'Connell, who is one of three Irish players on the bench for the Reds match.

Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton are also listed among the replacements, with Bowe the only Irish starter.

"Sean and Jamie (Heaslip) are two of the top back-row players around," said Warburton, who will become the 800th Lion tomorrow.

"Sean is an exceptionally tough player. I've always wanted to play in the same team as him so hopefully I will on this tour.

"Myself and Paul O'Connell have been spending a lot of time training together – he's a gym-bunny like me. Paul and Brian (O'Driscoll) have been fantastically helpful to me so far and are real gentlemen."

Irish Independent

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