Sam Warburton to captain British and Irish Lions in tour opener

Candice Alexander
June 1, 2017

While the Lions arrived only three days out from the first game, they will have been together for longer than their Provincial Barbarian opponents, a side picked from the second-tier talent in New Zealand who travelled to Whangarei on Sunday.

Ireland flyhalf Jonny Sexton will start outside Scotland scrumhalf Laidlaw, who has been included in the starting side after getting a late call-up to the touring squad.

"The advantage of the team we have selected is that the players were together in the first week in Wales", Gatland said on Thursday.

"The midweek players knew straight away that over there was the Test side and they were just making up the numbers".

"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".

Gatland has also chose to name an all-Welsh back-row, with Ross Moriarty due to make his first appearance for the Lions alongside 2013 tourists Warburton and Taulupe Faletau, while Jonathan Sexton wins the battle for the fly-half role as England's Owen Farrell is named among the replacements alongside three of his global colleagues in Jamie George, Mako Vunipola and George Kruis.

The 2005 tour was marred by controversy, after Brian O'Driscoll was infamously dump tackled within two minutes of the opening test in Christchurch.

"I don't care how we win, if we won every game 3-0 I'd bite your arm off", he said. I thought: 'You're f•••••• kidding me!'

'It's not just Sexton and Farrell, there's Biggar as well, so there's real experience.

"We would have liked to have done that but with a week's preparation and the enormity of the game, it would have been unfair on the players had we asked them to learn a haka that would have done justice to the occasion".

'It was quite amusing last week; at the end of training one day I asked to speak to the 10s, and when they came over, Johnny said about Owen, "Don't worry about him, he's a midfielder". "Johnny said: 'Don't worry about Owen, he's a midfielder.' There's already a bit of banter there and a lot of healthy competition".

Moments before the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians take to the Toll Stadium field on Saturday night, their coach, Clayton McMillan, will deliver his final message to the players after a breathless week.

"We spoke last week and. What we lack for in time, we'll make up for in energy and enthusiasm". We haven't spoken too much about the game, but he's excited about the opportunity. So it's nice I can go in knowing what's happening.

The Lions faithful will believe they have the team to counter another historic hurdle. One of the things I've always found about New Zealand is how friendly and welcoming the people are when we get here, which is probably why it's my favourite place to play rugby in the world, outside of my home country. That's our job to come here, play some good rugby and earn respect. "If we reduce that [survey] number down to 77% that will be a good start".

Other reports by VgToday

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