RUGBY: Ulster trio named in British Lions tour opener
Sam Warburton will captain the British and Irish Lions in their first tour match against the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians.
The Wales flanker will lead a Lions side containing nine debutants and six stars returning from the 2013 tour in Saturday’s tour opener in Whangarei.
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 who 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.”
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 New Zealand tour.
Joe Marler and Ireland captain Rory Best complete the front-row, with Alun Wyn Jones and Iain 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 Jared Payne primed for his first Lions action.
“We are all hugely excited about the first game on tour, it’s a great opportunity for the starting XV and the whole match day squad to lay down a marker and get the tour off to a good start,” said Gatland.
“We have named a side that showcases a strong combination of experience and youth and we are really looking forward to Saturday.”