And then it was time for the eagerly awaited first test….this coming Saturday, the 22nd in Brisbane.
The Lions’ loss against the Brumbies earlier this week will still be fresh in their minds and will serve as further motivation to prove that a first-choice team is a different kettle of fish.
British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland, who is also Wales’s coach, picked four Irish and three English players in his starting XV while New Zealand-born winger Sean Maitland is the only Scottish player in the match 23. Sam Warburton will captain a Lions run-on XV that contains eight Welsh players. Ireland’s Johnny Sexton has been given the No 10 jersey and Irish legend Brian O’Driscoll starts at outsidecentre. England prop Alex Corbisiero has been named in the British and Irish Lions starting XV for his first Test against ,on Saturday.There are eight Welshmen in the team, one short of the record of nine.
Despite the loss of the physically imposing Jamie Roberts and Manu Tuilagi, Gatland denied his midfield would lack a physical edge. “I don’t think Jonathan Davies at 105kg is a small midfielder,” he said. “Just because he is not as tall as the other two, I don’t see him lacking a physical element at all. “We’ve also got George North coming in and our nine [Phillips] and 10 [Sexton] are both big half-backs too. What it does give us is a few more subtleties in midfield and we have got some pace and fire-power in the backs.
Skipper Sam Warburton says the desire to achieve something no British and Irish Lions team has done for 16 years will drive his side on to success in the three-test battle against the Wallabies. The Lions have not won a series since Martin Johnson’s men delivered the goods against South Africa in 1997.
Since that tour, the Lions have won two, drawn one and lost seven of their test matches, and they were beaten 2-1 by the Wallabies 12 years ago. But Warburton, 24, believes the desire is there to make history, starting with a win in the opening test in Brisbane on Saturday.
“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,” Warburton 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.
“That’s something which I think we will be pretty desperate in wanting to achieve. That’s the one thing which will be a certainty in all three matches – the players’ determination to get a result.”
History shows that the Lions have yet to lose a test in Brisbane, with seven successive victories stretching back to 1899.
Australian coach, Robbie Deans, earlier named three debutants for the match, with Israel Folau starting at right wing. Christian Leali’ifano got the nod at inside centre and Ben Mowen starts at blind-side flanker. James O’Connor starts at fly-half for only the second time in a Test match, while Kurtley Beale will warm the bench.
O’Connor said on Thursday he is expecting the British and Irish Lions to target him in only his second game as Wallaby flyhalf in the opening Test of the series this weekend. The ultra-confident 22-year-old is lining up for his 38th international cap on Saturday with his only other appearance at number 10 was in a 24-18 win over Warren Gatland’s Wales side in 2011.
O’Connor said he is confident that he will do the job for the Wallabies outside inspirational scrumhalf Will Genia with Test debutant Lealiifano at inside centre. “I’ve got some good support around me who can control the game very well. We’ve done well on the training pitch and we’re going to take it into the game and play some good footy,” he said. “I’m very confident in how it’s all going. O’Connor is also likely to entrusted with the goal-kicking responsibility for the Wallabies as the Lions pin their hopes of fullback Leigh Halfpenny, who has been deadly accurate on tour with 22 goals from 23 attempts. “Halfpenny has been pretty magical with the boot, so we want to limit his opportunities and make sure we take ours,” O’Connor said.
Will Genia and O’Connor reunite as the inside back combination. Both players have struggled with injury, with O’Connor ruled out of all of last year’s Test programme, firstly due to a lacerated liver and then by a hamstring complaint.
The Wallabies head into the match boosted by the Lions’ first non-Test defeat in Australia in 42 years following their 12-14 loss to the Brumbies in Canberra on Tuesday.
The second Test is in Melbourne on June 29 with the final clash in Sydney on July 6.
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