Lions 2013: Paul O'Connell to captain side against Barbarians

 

Ireland lock Paul O'Connell will captain the British and Irish Lions in Saturday's tour opener against the Barbarians at Hong Kong Stadium.

O'Connell, Lions skipper in South Africa in 2009, takes over from flanker Sam Warburton, who has a knee injury.

The team contains nine Welshmen, including the back row of Dan Lydiate, Justin Tipuric and Toby Faletau.

Scotland trio Stuart Hogg, Richie Gray and Sean Maitland all start, with England's Owen Farrell at fly-half.

Only centre Jamie Roberts, scrum-half Mike Phillips, prop Adam Jones and O'Connell from the starting XV have previously represented the Lions. There is further experience on the bench in the shape of prop Matt Stevens, lock Alun Wyn Jones and number eight Jamie Heaslip.

Lions fixture list

  • Sat 1 June: Barbarians, Hong Kong
  • Wed 5 June: Western Force, Perth
  • Sat 8 June: Queensland Reds, Brisbane
  • Tue 11 June: Combined New South Wales-Queensland Country, Newcastle
  • Sat 15 June: New South Wales Waratahs, Sydney
  • Tue 18 June: ACT Brumbies, Canberra
  • Sat 22 June: First Test, Brisbane
  • Tue 25 June: Melbourne Rebels, Melbourne
  • Sat 29 June: Second Test, Melbourne
  • Sat 6 July: Third Test, Sydney

The Lions opted not to risk Warburton, who has been given a steroid injection to treat a slight medial knee ligament injury.

"The medics have asked him to stay off it for five days," explained head coach Warren Gatland.

"We felt it was not worth the risk. The last thing we wanted was for him to get through the first three or four weeks and then be struggling when the Tests come around. It is just precautionary."

Leinster duo Sean O'Brien (knee bruising) and Rob Kearney (hamstring), and Wales prop Gethin Jenkins (calf) were also unavailable for selection.

In Warburton's absence, Gatland said asking O'Connell - who attended both pre-tour training camps - to lead the side was a "very easy decision".

"Paul has been great over the last few weeks, and it was probably a blessing that Munster got knocked out [in the semi-finals] of the Heineken Cup.

"He has done a great job supporting Sam and is the best person for the job in terms of his leadership and the respect he has within the squad."

O'Connell missed the entire Six Nations after back surgery but secured his place on a third Lions tour with some rousing displays for Munster on his return to action in late March.

"Sam has run a great ship for the past few weeks and I am sure he is disappointed not to be leading the guys out in the first game," said the Munster lock. "But for me personally I am thrilled. Around Christmas and for a few months after that, I didn't think I would be here."

Scotland lock Gray will play his first match since suffering a hamstring injury on 9 March alongside O'Connell, while Wales wing Alex Cuthbert will have his first competitive outing since the Six Nations finale against England 11 weeks ago.

The side also features an established combination in the Welsh centre pairing of Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies, while in Warburton's absence, the talented Tipuric gets an early chance to shine as part of an all-Welsh back row.

England's Farrell gets the first chance to stake a claim for the pivotal fly-half jersey, with Jonathan Sexton on the bench, along with three others - Tom Youngs, Cian Healy and Heaslip - involved in club finals last Saturday.

"Owen has done quite a bit of training with (scrum-half) Mike Phillips in the last couple of weeks," Gatland added. "There are different structures and game plans to what some players are used to, but Owen has been going well and I'm sure he'll do very well."

With Leigh Halfpenny left out of the first match-day squad, Farrell will assume the goalkicking duties.

Lions team: Stuart Hogg (Scotland), Alex Cuthbert (Wales), Jonathan Davies (Wales), Jamie Roberts (Wales), Sean Maitland (Scotland); Owen Farrell (England), Mike Phillips (Wales); Mako Vunipola (England), Richard Hibbard (Wales), Adam Jones (Wales), Richie Gray (Scotland), Paul O'Connell (Ireland), Dan Lydiate (Wales), Justin Tipuric (Wales), Toby Faletau (Wales).

Replacements: Tom Youngs (England), Cian Healy (Ireland), Matt Stevens (England), Alun Wyn Jones (Wales), Jamie Heaslip (Ireland), Conor Murray (Ireland), Jonathan Sexton (Ireland), George North (Wales).