Warren Gatland opts not to risk Welsh star in side’s first tour game against the Western Force.
Ireland’s Brian O’Driscoll will lead the British and Irish Lions in their first tour game in Australia this week with skipper Sam Warburton still out with a knee injury, officials said Monday.
Warburton, who missed the Lions’ 59-8 hammering of the Barbarians in Hong Kong with knee ligament damage, remains sidelined despite earlier comments that he could feature against Western Force on Wednesday.
The 23-man squad contains eight Lions debutants, and will not feature any players who started against the Barbarians on Saturday.
“There were a lot of positives to come out of the first match in Hong Kong,” coach Warren Gatland told a press conference. “Our fitness and application were excellent and we operated well in the set-pieces.
“That said, it was our first match and naturally we were a bit rusty, and there is definitely room for improvement.
“Of course this is a completely new team and the challenge is to ensure that the selected players continue the on-field progress we are seeking.”
Gatland said with Irish centre O’Driscoll leading the side, the Lions would be ready to emulate the victory against the Barbarians.
“This is his fourth Lions tour and he is a respected leader,” Gatland said of O’Driscoll.
Fullback Rob Kearney has a hamstring injury and will not play against either the Force or in Saturday’s following match with the Queensland Reds in Brisbane, team officials added.
Team (15-1) – Leigh Halfpenny; Tommy Bowe, Brian O’Driscoll (capt), Manu Tuilagi, George North; Jonathan Sexton, Conor Murray; Jamie Heaslip, Sean O’Brien, Tom Croft; Ian Evans, Alun Wyn Jones; Dan Cole, Rory Best, Cian Healy.
Replacements: Tom Youngs, Mako Vunipola, Matt Stevens, Geoff Parling, Toby Faletau, Ben Youngs, Owen Farrell, Sean Maitland.