British and Irish Lions leader warns Australian forwards ahead of torrid Test.
Coach Warren Gatland has warned the Wallabies to expect a physical encounter after naming fit-again Wales winger George North among eight players who will make their British and Irish Lions Test debut in Brisbane on Saturday.
Sam Warburton will captain the team for the clash against Australia at the Suncorp Stadium while veteran Irish centre Brian O’Driscoll, the sole survivor from the last series between the two countries in 2001, will play his seventh Lions Test.
“After six matches we have arrived at the first Test and have selected our strongest possible side with only Jamie Roberts, Tommy Bowe and Manu Tuilagi unavailable for selection,” Lions coach Warren Gatland said Thursday.
“The Wallabies at home pose a huge challenge but the Test team contains 20 of the players that played against the NSW Waratahs in what was our best match to date,” he added, referring to the 47-17 win in Sydney last weekend.
The powerful North, who strained a hamstring in the win over the Combined Country XV in Newcastle last week, will be marked by former rugby league star Israel Folau, who was among three new caps named Thursday for the Wallabies.
Joining North in making their debuts behind the scrum will be fullback Leigh Halfpenny, wing Alex Cuthbert, centre Jonathan Davies and outside-half Johnny Sexton.
Up front, Warburton will command a pack that sees Alex Corbisiero and Tom Youngs join him in debuting for the Lions in a Test match.
Corbisiero makes the team less than two weeks following his arrival as a replacement from the England tour in Argentina after the Lions lost loosehead props Cian Healy and Gethin Jenkins to injuries.
O’Driscoll is joined in the side by six other survivors from the series against the Springboks in South Africa four years ago in scrum-half Mike Phillips, prop Adam Jones, locks Alun Wyn Jones and Paul O’Connell and back-rowers Tom Croft and Jamie Heaslip.
All eight replacements are uncapped in Lions Tests and include New Zealand-born Mako Vunipola and Sean Maitland.
Despite suffering their first non-Test defeat in Australia in 42 years, 14-12 to the Brumbies in Canberra on Tuesday, Gatland said the team was in a positive frame of mind following five wins in their six tour fixtures to date.
“Tuesday night was a bit of a blip for us but over the last two Saturdays against the Reds and the Waratahs a lot of the players from this side have been building that momentum,” he said.
“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.
“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.”
The second Test is in Melbourne on June 29 with the final clash in Sydney on July 6.
Lions (15-1): Leigh Halfpenny; Alex Cuthbert, Brian O’Driscoll, Jonathan Davies, George North; Johnny Sexton, Mike Phillips; Jamie Heaslip, Sam Warburton, 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.