Warburton to lead Lions in New Zealand tour opener

BY AP • May 31, 2017

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) Sam Warburton will lead the British and Irish Lions in the first match in New Zealand against a Provincial Barbarians selection at Whangarei on Saturday.

The Welsh backrower, the tour captain, is one of the six members of the 2013 Lions squad which beat Australia to be named by coach Warren Gatland in the starting lineup for the first of 10 matches in New Zealand. Three more 2013 tourists have been included on the bench. The team includes three national captains: Warburton, Rory Best of Ireland and Greig Laidlaw of Scotland.

New Zealand-born Ireland center Jared Payne has also been included on the bench, giving him the chance to play for the Lions on the ground on which he regularly played for Northland province. Payne may get the chance to combine in midfield Auckland-born England center Ben Te'o.

Gatland, the Wales coach, has selected an all-Welsh loose forward trio of Warburton, Taulupe Faletau and Ross Moriarty. Joe Marler, Best and Kyle Sinckler combine in the front row, and Alan Wyn Jones and Ian Henderson are the locks.

Ireland flyhalf Jonny Sexton will start outside Scotland scrumhalf Laidlaw, who has been included in the starting side after getting a late call-up to the touring squad.

Te'o will be joined in midfield by England teammate Jonathan Joseph. The back three will include Scotland's Tommy Seymour and England's Anthony Watson on the wings and Scotland's Stuart Hogg at fullback.

The starting XV includes five players from England, four from Wales, three from Ireland and all three of the Scottish tourists.

''We are all hugely excited about the first game on tour,'' Gatland said. ''It's a great opportunity for the starting 15 and the whole match squad to lay down a marker and get the tour off to a good start.

''We are lucky to have some real leaders in the squad and to be able to select them for this match in the likes of Rory Best, Alun Wyn Jones and Greig Laidlaw.''

Gatland said he was pleased to see Warburton start the first match of the tour, something he didn't do in 2013. He dismissed concerns about the team's apparent lack of preparation.

''The balance of the squad is really good,'' Gatland said. ''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.

''It is important these guys get a run early and lay down a marker for others to follow.''

Gatland said he planned to try and give the whole 41-man squad a start in the first two matches. The Lions will play Super Rugby clubs the Blues, Crusaders, Highlanders and Chiefs and the Maori All Blacks before the three-test series against World Cup champion New Zealand starts June 24 in Auckland.

''It is important the players get that opportunity because if they go well and the team goes well they put themselves in the shop window for a test start,'' he said.

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British and Irish Lions: Stuart Hogg, Anthony Watson, Jonathan Joseph, Ben Te'o, Tommy Seymour, Jonathan Sexton, Greig Laidlaw, Taulupe Faletau, Sam Warburton, Ross Moriarty, Iain Henderson, Alun Wyn Jones, Kyle Sinckler, Rory Best, Joe Marler.

Reserves: Jamie George, Mako Vunipola, Tadhg Furlong, George Kruis, Justin Tipuric, Rhys Webb, Owen Farrell, Jared Payne


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