Lions name team for first Test against Australia in Brisbane

The Lions have opted for power up front and mobility in the back row as they look to maintain their unbeaten Test record in Brisbane against Australia on Saturday.

The England prop Alex Corbisiero, who was not named in the original 37-man squad, is part of a strong scrummaging front row with Tom Youngs and Adam Jones, while the back row of Sam Warburton, Tom Croft and Jamie Heaslip was not one that was predicted at the start of the tour.

Croft's presence on the blind-side will give the Lions a crucial option at the back of the line-out, an area where they have only been effective this tour when he has played, while the No8 Jamie Heaslip is another who likes to operate in space.

With Sam Warburton captaining the team from open-side, the Lions have gone for the back row that started against the Waratahs last week. It was a match in which the Lions were penalised at the breakdown less than any other, but at times the scrum-half Mike Phillips was left unprotected around the fringes and he was often scragged by the home forwards.

The Lions had been expected to go for a tighter option at No8 in Toby Faletau, but he played the full 80 minutes against the Brumbies on Tuesday and does not make the bench where Wales's Dan Lydiate provides the back row cover, leaving Croft to cover open-side wing forward.

Corbisiero is the only change from the pack that started against the Waratahs and he has not played one minute this tour alongside Youngs, who edged out Richard Hibbard at hooker. Eleven of the team that took the field in Sydney have been picked with Alex Cuthbert, George North – whose recovery from a hamstring injury is timely as he is a central figure in the Lions' gameplan – and Brian O'Driscoll the changes behind.

The injuries to the centres Jamie Roberts and Manu Tuilagi mean that Jonathan Davies will partner O'Driscoll in the midfield in the unfamiliar position of inside-centre. The pair had 23 minutes together in the romp over the Combined Country XV earlier this month.

The Test line-up has not started a match together this tour and only four players remain from the team that faced the Reds on the second Saturday. The scrum-half Ben Youngs is the only starter from Tuesday who is in the 23, chosen on the bench ahead of Conor Murray.

Eight of the team were involved in Wales's winning Six Nations campaign and seven have played in Lions Tests before, O'Driscoll, Mike Phillips, Adam Jones, Alun Wyn Jones, Paul O'Connell, Croft and Heaslip. O'Driscoll and O'Connell are former tour captains while half the back have led their countries.

The back division is a mixture of Irish and Welsh with Jonathan Sexton and O'Driscoll adding craft to the strength of the Six Nations champions, although Davies will not be a like-for-like replacement for the powerful Roberts, while England and Ireland provide five of the forwards.

The Lions are odds-on favourites to win the series but the New Zealand coach Steve Hansen believes the Wallabies will come out on top, although he expects them to lose on Saturday.

"I'll back the Aussies because they are at home," he said. "Simply because Lions tours are so huge and you've got so many people to fit in and to give games, I always think the home team's got the big advantage. If both teams stay injury free, it will be a massive series and the loss of Jamie Roberts is a big blow for the Lions.

"What a Lions tour does, as we saw in New Zealand in 2005, is bring out the patriotism of the home team's supporters. It becomes a national thing. What the Lions have shown is how rugby in the four home unions has improved, especially in Wales and England."

Team: 15-Leigh Halfpenny (Wales), 14-Alex Cuthbert (Wales), 13-Brian O'Driscoll (Ireland), 12-Jonathan Davies (Wales), 11-George North (Wales), 10-Jonathan Sexton (Ireland), 9-Mike Phillips (Wales), 8-Jamie Heaslip (Ireland), 7-Sam Warburton (Wales, captain), 6-Tom Croft (England), 5-Paul O'Connell (Ireland), 4-Alun Wyn Jones (Wales), 3-Adam Jones (Wales), 2-Tom Youngs (England), 1-Alex Corbisiero (England).

Replacements - 16-Richard Hibbard (Wales), 17-Mako Vunipola (England), 18-Dan Cole (England), 19-Geoff Parling (England), 20-Dan Lydiate (Wales), 21-Ben Youngs (England), 22-Owen Farrell (England), 23-Sean Maitland (Scotland).

Powered by article was written by Paul Rees in Brisbane, for on Thursday 20th June 2013 03.46 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


image: © National Assembly for Wales