Belfast Telegraph

Warburton gets chance to hit ground running

 

By Nick Purewal

Sam Warburton has been granted his wish to captain the British and Irish Lions in their opening tour match against the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians.

The Wales flanker will lead a Lions side containing nine debutants in New Zealand as he makes his first start since suffering a knee injury in April.

All three of Ulster's Lions will be involved with Rory Best, Iain Henderson and Jared Payne getting an early run-out.

Ireland's Johnny Sexton and Scotland's Greig Laidlaw will combine at half-back, with head coach Warren Gatland admitting he wants to field his full 41-man squad across the Lions' opening two fixtures.

The Lions face Super Rugby outfit the Blues in Auckland next Wednesday, leaving Gatland hopeful his tourists can make a fast start this weekend.

"We are lucky to have some real leaders in the squad and to be able to select them for this match in the likes of Rory Best, Alun Wyn Jones and Greig Laidlaw," said Gatland. "I'm looking forward to seeing what Greig can do alongside Johnny Sexton, both are experienced half-backs. It is also great to have Sam starting in the first game of the tour, something he didn't do in 2013 and I'm looking forward to seeing what we can do this weekend.

"The balance of the squad is really good, we have selected the majority of players who were together for the training weeks in Wales and Ireland and they have worked together and prepared well for a number of weeks.

"It is important these guys get a run early and lay down a marker for others to follow.

"We've picked the team for Saturday but it is still the plan to try and give the whole squad a start in the next two matches.

"It is important the players get that opportunity, because if they go well and the team goes well, they put themselves in the shop window for a Test start."

Warburton will start his first match since suffering the knee issue that almost jeopardised his tour, and had already declared his determination to feature in the opening tour clash.

The 28-year-old went into the Lions' series-winning Australia tour in 2013 also carrying a knee issue and missed the first four matches.

But four years on the Cardiff Blues star is itching to hit the ground running against an NZ Barbarians outfit likely to boast Gatland's son Bryn.

Harlequins prop Kyle Sinckler is yet to start a match for England across his eight Test caps, but has now claimed the first Lions starting shirt available on the tour.

Joe Marler and Ireland captain Best complete the front-row, with Alun Wyn Jones and Henderson at lock - and an all-Wales back-row of Warburton, Ross Moriarty and Taulupe Faletau.

Ben Te'o, Jonathan Joseph and Anthony Watson add an England flavour to a backline also including Scots Tommy Seymour and full-back Stuart Hogg.

Wales' Rhys Webb and England's Owen Farrell are among the replacements, with Ireland's former New Zealand Under-20s star Payne primed for his first Lions action.

British and Irish Lions team to face New Zealand Provincial Barbarians on Saturday: S Hogg (Scotland), A Watson, J Joseph, B Te'o (all England), T Seymour (Scotland), J Sexton (Ireland), G Laidlaw (Scotland), J Marler (England), R Best (Ireland), K Sinckler (England), A Jones (Wales), I Henderson (Ireland), R Moriarty, S Warburton, T Faletau (all Wales). Replacements: J George, M Vunipola (both England), T Furlong (Ireland), G Kruis (England), J Tipuric, R Webb (both Wales), O Farrell (England), J Payne (Ireland).

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