Monday 18 December 2017

Warburton will lead Lions against Reds

Sam Warburton, the Lions tour captain will make his tour debut on Saturday. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
Sam Warburton, the Lions tour captain will make his tour debut on Saturday. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Tour captain Sam Warburton will make his British and Irish Lions debut against Queensland Reds after being named in Warren Gatland's team for the clash with the 2011 Super Rugby champions.

Welshman Warburton missed the tourists' convincing wins over the Barbarians in Hong Kong and Western Force in Perth to rest a knee injury but will start at openside flanker for the toughest test of the tour so far.

Gatland has also included Welsh prop Gethin Jenkins, who missed the first two matches with a calf problem, in the side for the match against a Reds side boasting 87 caps and Quade Cooper at flyhalf.

"For me I've been thinking about this game for quite a while, it can't come quick enough, and I'm desperate to get out on the pitch," Warburton told reporters in Brisbane.

"It's been tough to watch the last two games knowing the players have got their jerseys in their kit bags to take home with them and I haven't got one yet.

"It's been the best three weeks of my rugby career since we've got together. I've absolutely loved it even though I haven't played."

The return of experienced loosehead Jenkins for his first match of his third Lions tour is a welcome boost to Gatland, who could soon lose Cian Healy to injury, a ban or both.

The Irishman damaged ligaments in his left ankle in Wednesday's 69-17 demolition of Western Force and will face a disciplinary hearing in Brisbane on Friday after he was cited for biting Force scrumhalf Brett Sheehan.

The team bears some resemblance to that which beat the Barbarians 59-8 last weekend with England's Owen Farrell returning at flyhalf and Scot Stuart Hogg at fullback.

England's Manu Tuilagi will start at centre with Jonathan Davies moving inside to accommodate him and his fellow Welshman Jamie Roberts left out of the team altogether.

England's Ben Youngs gets his first start of the tour at scrumhalf and Irish winger Tommy Bowe is one of the few players retained from the victory over the Force with Alex Cuthbert on the other wing.

Warburton features in an imposing all-Welsh back row with number eight Toby Faletau and blindside Dan Lydiate and a fourth Welsh back-rower Justin Tipuric starts on the bench.

England's Geoff Parling, who came off the bench to score try in Perth, gets his first start of the tour alongside Scot Richie Gray in the second row.

Two more Englishmen, hooker Tom Youngs and prop Matt Stevens, start for the first time alongside Jenkins in the front row having been replacements in the first two matches.

Irish fullback Rob Kearney is the only player left in the party that travelled to Hong Kong not to feature in a matchday squad as he deals with a severe hamstring problem.

"We always said we would give every player a start in the first three matches and this team reflects that," Gatland said in a statement.

"It also provides us with the opportunity to continue to look at different combinations."

Lions team: 15-Stuart Hogg, 14-Alex Cuthbert, 13-Manu Tuilagi, 12-Jonathan Davies, 11-Tommy Bowe, 10-Owen Farrell, 9-Ben Youngs, 8-Toby Faletau, 7-Sam Warburton (captain), 6-Dan Lydiate, 5-Geoff Parling, 4-Richie Gray, 3-Matt Stevens, 2-Tom Youngs, 1-Gethin Jenkins.

Replacements: 16-Richard Hibbard, 17-Mako Vunipola, 18-Adam Jones, 19-Paul O'Connell, 20-Justin Tipuric, 21-Conor Murray, 22-Jonny Sexton, 23-George North.


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