The time for fevered speculation has ended as the Lions Team has been announced. Well it wasn’t really that fevered, there are a couple of minor talking points, particularly in the front row, with Corbisiero and Youngs starting, and I’d probably have had Kearney starting with Halfpenny on the wing instead of Cuthbert, but apart from that the team basically picked itself.
Personally, and I’m probably going to incur the wrath of our Turnip readers here, but I would have gone with Gray in second row alongside Wyn Jones. I don’t think O’Connell has three tests in him and I had a feeling that Gray was going to be the player that excelled on the tour but there you go, I’ve been wrong abut O’Connell before!
Anyway here’s the bumph from The Official Lions:
North has passed a fitness test on the hamstring injury he picked up in the win over a Combined New South Wales Queensland Country XV on June 11 and takes his place on the left wing, with countryman Alex Cuthbert named on the right.
Leigh Halfpenny, Jonathan Davies and Jonny Sexton also win their first caps behind the scrum, with outside centre Brian O’Driscoll – who is the sole survivor from the last time The Lions played a Test match in Australia back in 2001 – and scrum-half Mike Phillips having both featured in the series in South Africa four years ago.
Phillips has played in three internationals with Britain and Ireland’s elite and O’Driscoll has started in six, while the forward pack contains a wealth of Lions Test experience, with Jamie Heaslip, Tom Croft, Paul O’Connell, Alun Wyn Jones and Adam Jones sharing 17 Lions Tests between them.
Sam Warburton skippers the side from the openside flank and is joined in the back five by four men who were involved in The Lions’ most recent Test win against the Springboks in Johannesburg. Croft starts on the blindside flank, Heaslip packs down at No8 and O’Connell and Alun Wyn Jones are reunited in the second row.
In the front row, tighthead prop Adam Jones won two Test caps in ’09 before injury prematurely ended his involvement but hooker Tom Youngs and loose head prop Alex Corbisierio – who was called up as a replacement for the injurted Cian Healy – are newcomers to the Test team.
The replacements’ bench features a further eight potential Lions Test debutants, with Richard Hibbard, Mako Vunipola and Dan Cole providing front row cover; Geoff Parling acing as the replacement lock; Dan Lydiate covering the back row; and Ben Youngs, Owen Farrell and Sean Maitland the backline replacements.
There are eight Welshmen, four Irishmen and three Englishmen in the starting side, with five Englishmen, two Welshmen and a Scot on the bench.
“We are now at the business end of the tour. You can feel the excitement and commitment within the squad now that we are back in Brisbane and the first Test is just days away,” said British & Irish Lions Tour Manager Andy Irvine.
“I congratulate all the players who are making their Lions Test debut on Saturday. Playing against the Wallabies for the Lions is a major milestone in a player’s career and I am confident they will all uphold the history and tradition of the Lions by giving their all.”
Head Coach Warren Gatland added: “After six matches we have arrived at the first Test and have selected our strongest possible side with only Jamie Roberts and Tommy Bowe unavailable for selection.
“The Wallabies at home pose a huge challenge but the Test team contains 20 of the players that played against the Waratahs in what was our best match to date. We now have a couple of more days of match preparation to ensure we improve again on that performance.”
British & Irish Lions: Leigh Halfpenny, Alex Cuthbert, Brian O’Driscoll, Jonathan Davies, George North, Jonathan Sexton, Mike Phillips, Alex Corbisiero, Tom Youngs, Adam Jones, Alun Wyn Jones, Paul O’Connell, Tom Croft, Sam Warburton, Jamie Heaslip. Replacements: Richard Hibbard, Makovina Vunipola, Dan Cole, Geoff Parling, Dan Lydiate, Ben Youngs, Owen Farrell, Sean Maitland.