Skipper Warburton to start in Lions opener

Sam Warburton (Getty)
Sam Warburton (Getty)

Wellington - The British and Irish Lions have thrown captain Sam Warburton straight into the fray as they look to make a winning start to their tour of New Zealand.

Warburton, who is returning from a knee injury that sidelined him in April, will lead a powerful line-up against a Provincial Barbarians XV in Whangarei on Saturday.

The 28-year-old Welsh flank will start alongside three national captains - Wales' Alun Wyn Jones, Ireland's Rory Best and Scotland's Greig Laidlaw.

Ireland flyhalf Johnny Sexton will also bring a wealth of experience as the Lions face a Barbarians team widely regarded as their weakest opponent on the 10-match tour.

Coach Warren Gatland said he was looking at his veterans to provide leadership in a team that combined youth and experience.

Gatland said he was "excited and bit apprehensive" about the much-anticipated tour kicking off in the first visit since 2005 by the composite team of players from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

"It's a great opportunity to lay down a marker in terms of hopefully getting the tour off to a good start," said the New Zealander, who won 17 caps for the All Blacks.

The starting XV includes five players from England, four from Wales and three each from Ireland and Scotland.

Gatland said he was looking forward to seeing Sexton and Laidlaw combine in the backline and was pleased to have Warburton return for the opening match.

"The balance of the squad is really good, we have selected the majority of players who were together for the training weeks in Wales and Ireland and they have worked together and prepared well for a number of weeks," he said.

Gatland said he hoped to give the majority of his 41-man squad a run in the opening two matches, the second of which is against the Blues next Wednesday.

Gatland's son Bryn, 22, is expected to start at inside centre for the Barbarians and could also turn out for the Blues next week.

Former hooker Gatland, who coached the Lions to a Test series win over Australia in 2013, said his son's appearance was "awesome" and the pair enjoyed some banter ahead of the Barbarians match.

"I said 'perhaps you could give me all your calls and moves' and he said 'as long as you let me run through a big hole in the first few minutes'," Gatland told reporters after arriving on Wednesday.

Teams:

Lions

15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Ben Te’o, 11 Tommy Seymour, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Greig Laidlaw, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (captain), 6 Ross Moriarty, 5 Iain Henderson, 4 Alun Wyn Jones, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Rory Best, 1 Joe Marler

Substitutes: 16 Jamie George, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Tadgh Furlong, 19 George Kruis, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Rhys Webb, 22 Owen Farrell, 23 Jared Payne

Provincial Barbarians XV 

15 Luteru Laulala, 14 Sam Vaka, 13 Inga Finau, 12 Dwayne Sweeney, 11 Sevu Reece, 10 Bryn Gatland, 9 Jack Stratton, 8 Mitchell Dunshea, 7 Lachlan Boshier, 6 James Tucker, 5 Keepa Mewett, 4 Josh Goodhue, 3 Oliver Jager, 2 Sam Anderson-Heather (captain), 1 Aidan Ross

Substitutes: 16 Andrew Makalio, 17 Tolu Fahamokoia, 18 Marcel Renata, 19 Matt Matich, 20 Peter Rowe, 21 Richard Judd, 22 Jonah Lowe, 23 Junior Ngaluafe

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