Read a match preview and watch a live stream of the Lions’ Test against Australia.
Where: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
When: 11:00 (BST)
Watch live: Click here to watch on NowTV with Sky!
The British and Irish Lions will pit their vast experience against a Wallaby team featuring three debutants and a rookie flyhalf in their bid to seize the momentum in Saturday’s first Test in Brisbane.
The tourists, chasing their first series win in 16 years, go into the opening match of the three-Test series anchored by a powerful set-piece, quality leadership with three Lions captains in their ranks, and the calming experience of centre Brian O’Driscoll and lock Paul O’Connell.
The two Irishmen have 222 Test caps between them, with a dozen for the Lions, giving them a decided edge over the Wallabies, who won the last series in Australia in 2001.
O’Driscoll and O’Connell are joined by five other survivors from the series against the Springboks in South Africa four years ago in scrum-half Mike Phillips, prop Adam Jones, lock Alun Wyn Jones and back-rowers Tom Croft and Jamie Heaslip.
The forward pack alone has played a combined total of 403 Tests, and 17 Lions Tests.
In comparison, Australia coach Robbie Deans has gone for three Test newcomers — winger Israel Folau, centre Christian Lealiifano and flanker Ben Mowen — while James O’Connor will play only his second game at flyhalf at this level.
The Lions also go into the opening clash unbeaten in all seven Tests played in Brisbane going back to 1899.
Warren Gatland’s team lost their unbeaten record on the current tour in a 14-12 upset to the ACT Brumbies on Tuesday after running up five victories.
While the Lions are match-hardened, the same cannot be said for the Wallabies, who will be playing their first Test since December.
Deans has had his squad in camp for three weeks working on combinations, strategy and fitness, but they are notoriously slow starters and in the past two years have lost to Samoa and Scotland in their first internationals of the season at home.
Compounding the team’s lack of match practice is the relative inactivity of three backs — O’Connor, who has played just one Super Rugby match in six weeks, winger Digby Ioane and full-back Berrick Barnes.
“We feel very positive where we are, we feel we’ve got a few hit-outs under our belt which has given us that match-hardened edge that we’re looking for,” Gatland said this week.
“Physically we feel like we’re in good shape, the boys feel very fresh and they’re looking forward to it.
“With the Australian team not having played for a few weeks and with two or three players having been out injured, we need to really take it to them physically, and with the kind of tempo that they are used to putting on other sides.”
Skipper Sam Warburton says the Lions are all too aware that the tourists have not won a series since South Africa in 1997.
“Everybody is desperate to achieve. It’s the one thing you will see in the body language of every player for every game, because none of us has achieved a Lions Test series win,” he said Friday.
“It’s something you desperately want to have on your rugby CV. We’ve got Heineken Cup winners, Grand Slam winners, English champions — all these competitions, but nobody’s ticked the Lions box.”
But Deans, whose coaching future with the Wallabies could hinge on the outcome of this series, is confident his team will win the battle of the wills.
“We’ve made the most of the time we’ve had. I can assure you that they’ll hit the ground running. They know what’s coming,” Deans said.
“We’ve tapped into the past, we’ve prepared as best that we can and we can’t do any more without playing to be frank.”
While the Lions are unbeaten in Brisbane, Suncorp Stadium has become a Wallaby fortress with the home side winning 12 of the 14 Tests there since 2003. The All Blacks are the only opponents to have won in that time.
Rod Macqueen, who coached the Wallabies to the last series success 12 years ago, said he liked what he has seen from the Lions.
“They have some injury issues, which may have an impact in the first Test, but the Wallabies know they face a really big challenge,” he said.
“I remember the buzz that we had in the country in 2001 and the same is happening now.”
Australia – Berrick Barnes; Israel Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Christian Leali’ifano, Digby Ioane; James O’Connor, Will Genia; Wycliff Palau, Michael Hooper, Ben Mowen; James Horwill (captain), Kane Douglas; Ben Alexander, Stephen Moore, Benn Robinson.
Saia Fainga’a, James Slipper, Sekope Kepu, Rob Simmons, Liam Gill, Nick Phipps, Pat McCabe, Kurtley Beale.
Lions – Leigh Halfpenny; Alex Cuthbert, Brian O’Driscoll, Jonathan Davies, George North; Johnny Sexton, Mike Phillips; Jamie Heaslip, Sam Warburton (captain), Tom Croft; Paul O’Connell, Alun Wyn Jones; Adam Jones, Tom Youngs, Alex Corbisiero.
Replacements: Richard Hibbard, Mako Vunipola, Dan Cole, Geoff Parling, Dan Lydiate, Ben Youngs, Owen Farrell, Sean Maitland.
Referee: Chris Pollock (NZL)