British and Irish Lions keen to lock horns over the ball in first Test.
Wallaby ace Will Genia the twin terrors of Michael Hooper and Liam Gill are a big strength for the home side in Saturday’s opening Test against the British and Irish Lions in Brisbane.
Lions coach Warren Gatland has selected skipper Sam Warbuton as his only openside flanker in the battle of breakdown for the opening engagement, while the Wallabies have Hooper in the starting line-up and Gill among their replacements.
Gatland preferred Welsh number six Dan Lydiate as his back-row cover and passed over Sean O’Brien and Justin Tipuric for a bench position.
The Lions conceded they were “smashed” at the breakdown in their only tour loss to the ACT Brumbies in Canberra on Tuesday.
Some commentators believe the Wallabies may have the edge if Warburton is injured and has to make way for Lydiate off the bench, while the Australians are expected to inject Gill into the game as an impact player late in the second half.
Genia, a key player for the Wallabies, said Hooper and Gill would play a major role in the contest for the ball.
“I don’t know if it’ll give us an edge (but) I think it’s a massive strength for us,” the 41-Test-capped scrum-half said.
“We’ve got exceptional players like Michael Hooper who’ll do a great job for us and then to have the luxury of someone like Liam Gill who can come on when it gets loose.
“Liam is great at the breakdown, he’s great at pilfering,” he added.
“He’s just got a really good all-round game. When the game does get a little bit loose, having a little bit of a sevens background, he’s got the ability to play with the ball in hand, and carry, and also get stuck into the tight stuff.
“We’re very fortunate to have those two guys in the group.”
Australia underlined their openside depth with Hooper and Gill after losing experienced number sevens David Pocock and George Smith with pre-tour injuries.
Warburton missed the early games of the tour with a knee injury and needed a big game against the NSW Waratahs last weekend with Test place challenges coming from O’Brien and Tipuric.
“The last two games have been awesome, but I know it will be at another level again on Saturday,” Warburton said.
“I have led Wales out in some pretty big games, but that will be blown out of water by the Lions, which is the ultimate pinnacle in rugby. I’m very proud to be doing it.”
Warburton is one of eight Welshmen in the starting XV as the Lions chase their first series win since 1997.
The Lions lost the last series in Australia in 2001 after winning the opening Test in Brisbane, where they have yet to lose in seven encounters against the Wallabies going back to 1899.